NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Sophia Popov still hasn’t replied to all of the congratulatory texts. Six weeks later, she’s still working through her inboxes — texts, Facebook and WhatsApp, mainly — trying to respond to everyone who watched as she pulled off the impossible in Scotland. She estimates she had over 600 people reach out with well wishes.
Players like Popov aren’t supposed to win major championships. Before her win at the Women’s Open, she had just three professional wins — all coming on the Cactus Tour. (If you haven’t heard of the Cactus Tour, we forgive you. It’s a women’s mini tour operating out of Arizona.) But one magical week across the pond has, quite literally, changed her life.
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “It’s been probably the coolest [six] weeks of my life. For me obviously it was an unexpected win, too.”
Now at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she is one of the hottest names in the field. While most pre-tournament media availabilities last no longer than 10 or 15 minutes, Popov answered questions for nearly half an hour. Even if she’s new to the spotlight, she certainly seems comfortable in it.
And that confidence has bled into her psyche between the ropes as well. She’s always been a confident person — that much was clear in her eloquent media availability — but since her Troon triumph, she knows she belongs with the world’s best on the golf course.
“I feel more like a sense of belonging,” Popov said. “I can just go out and shoot low any day and be in the mix at any tournament now. I think that’s changed a lot for me.”
Although that belonging on the course, even after the win at the Women’s Open, is still a bit murky. At least, according to the LPGA Tour’s guidelines. Usually when a player wins a major, they earn LPGA status for five years. But because Popov was not an LPGA member at the time of her win, she was only granted two years of status. This news did not come to light until several days after her win, with many rushing to call out the perceived injustice.
“I definitely got a little bit frustrated about the whole thing,” Popov told GOLF.com at the time. “It’s tough because I feel like I deserve the full five years of exemption from the LPGA, but at the same time, I understand the regulations and the fact that they can’t change the rules for a certain player.”
She also did not gain an invitation to the ANA Inspiration following the win. At least, not the 2020 edition. Because the event was shifted from the spring to the fall, the field was frozen month’s before Popov’s victory. So she’ll have to wait until 2021 to play the prestigious tournament at Mission Hills.
With that in mind, the Women’s PGA is the first major Popov will appear in since becoming a major champion. When she steps onto the first tee Thursday, the starter will announce her as a major winner. Six weeks ago, that seemed impossible — and Popov knows it.
“This is just my birthday present, my Christmas present, everything to myself,” Popov said. “I feel like it’s never going to quite sink in.”