Finally at her first ANA Inspiration, major champ Sophia Popov already looks like she belongs

sophia popov reads putt

Seven months removed from her improbable win at the Women's Open, Sophia Popov finally gets to tee it up at Mission Hills this week.

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — If you watch Sophia Popov walk the grounds of Mission Hills Country Club, she looks right at home. She walks with confidence. She hits the ball with confidence, too.  When she frames her go-to fade against the picturesque mountain background, the fact that she’s a major champion makes sense. She looks like she belongs.

Not too long ago though, Popov didn’t belong. Or at least, she wasn’t allowed.

Despite her improbable Women’s Open Championship victory last summer, Popov didn’t garner an invite to the 2020 edition of the ANA Inspiration. But she’s used to not being able to compete at golf’s first major — that was hardly the first time she’d been on the outside looking in at Mission Hills.

“I’ve been here a couple times to watch,” Popov told GOLF.com. “I’ve been here as an alternate and as a fan, so it’s nice to finally get to play in the event.”

At last, she belongs.

It’s amazing what becoming a major champion can do for your career. Prior to her win at Troon, Popov had just three wins as a professional, all coming on the lowly Cactus Tour. Now, she gets to tee it up on a weekly basis among the world’s best.

In the months following that career-changing win, the accomplishment still seemed too good to be true, almost dreamlike. We’re now seven months removed from that Cinderella story. The good vibes are still present, but that shiny newness has worn off.

“I’m not quite on cloud nine anymore,” Popov said. “I’m just looking forward to every week that’s ahead of me now and getting ready to defend the title.”

That doesn’t mean all the fun is over, though. With the trophy still in hand, she still takes it out from time to time to enjoy a nice cold beer from its spout.  

“I still think about [winning the Women’s Open] quite a bit,” Popov admitted. “I’m trying to enjoy it as long as I have the trophy still at home with me. But the time flies — it’s pretty crazy that it’s gone by so fast.”

No matter how that title defense goes, or how her first start at the ANA plays out, one thing is certain — Popov belongs.

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and is the staff’s self-appointed development tour “expert.”