Sophia Popov admits she will savour every minute of her defence of the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie 12 months since capturing a title that would change her golfing life.
The German arrived to Scotland as the highest ranked European player on the Rolex rankings in 28th spot having been outside the top-300 in the world before breaking through with a surprise win at Royal Troon last year. Popov has since proved scaling such heights was no fluke, banking three top-10’s on the LPGA Tour this year, including a second place finish at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play.
The good times kept rolling with Popov hopping aboard Team Germany’s flight to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics and now in Scotland, with her face plastered on billboards smiling with delight off the back of her success last year, the size of her achievement is hitting home once more; something to savour as she tees up Thursday defending a Major title.
“Once you get on-site and you see your face everywhere and you realise, ‘oh, my God, it’s been a year now and this is the event that changed so much for me’,” Popov told media at the last Major of the year. “I think up until last week, it was just a regular season and just been keep playing, keep playing.
“Then once I kind of set foot out here, it was like, okay, I’m coming here to truly enjoy this week, regardless of what happens. This is my sixth or seventh week on the road now, so obviously it’s kind of the highlight of the summer.
“I just need to really enjoy being out there, especially this week, just to take it all in, because I don’t know what’s going to happen this week and going forward. Being able to tee it up as defending champion is something that’s very, very special and something I shouldn’t take too lightly.”
It’s the start of a busy spell in women’s golf, especially with those harbouring aspirations of lining out in blue for Team Europe at the Solheim Cup. Popov’s place is already secured on the team and although she knows she shouldn’t be getting ahead of herself, Popov admits it’s hard not to get excited when considering she’ll soon be a part of Catriona Matthew’s side.
“It’s very exciting,” Popov added. “I think I might even mentally get ahead of myself a little bit, just really looking forward to that week [Solheim Cup] and the excitement of it always reminds me of all the great things that happened last year and this year.
“Last year I played well and I won the tournament [AIG Women’s Open] but I had to back it up with some other finishes to make that Solheim Cup team. I did that pretty well throughout the end of last season and beginning of this season. Now I fully grasp the idea that I really belong on that team, and now I think I can really enjoy it and look forward to it.”