Sophia Popov Stuns Golf World, Wins Open
There are a lot of people who are smitten with great underdog stories, and I admit to being one of them. What happened this week at Royal Troon in Scotland is one of the best I can remember. A twenty-seven year old woman from Germany, Sophia Popov came out of nowhere to win her first major. The name is more commonly found in Russia, but she’s from Germany
Every part of this story is a head-scratcher. First of all, Popov wasn’t even supposed to be there. She’s never won on either the European or LPGA tours, and lost her card during her six-year experiment with being a professional golfer. Second, she has suffered from Lyme disease all of those six years. She was rated worldwide at around #304. Getting into, much less winning an Open was deemed highly unlikely, How she got into the action, one can only wonder. Well, here’s how – a couple of people didn’t come because they were concerned about Covid-19, and she put in a top ten finish two weeks ago at the Marathon Classic, that in itself a surprise. They had a space open, and there she was at just the right time with a good recent performance.
Three weeks ago, she probably would have said you were crazy to tell her she’d be in the field for the Open. During that time, things were so stagnant that she was carrying the bag for friend Anne van Dame. Now, she is the first German female to win a major golf championship, and has received a check for $675,000, many times her entire career winnings. Popov did win once in Arizona on the Cactus Tour, winning $2,300. What an upgrade one week can make. More impressive was the way in which she took the Open.
Unlikely hopefuls show up from time to time with a great round of golf, fade away the next day and are never heard from again. Popov defied that category, faltering momentarily and almost allowing Jasmin Suwannapura to catch her with four straight birdies. Then she got her resolve together and birdied 15 and 16. In an equal display of good nerves, she stayed a steady game through the final two holes. Before tapping in for the tournament victory, she wept in a player-caddie embrace, realizing in one incredible moment that she was to be the Open champion.
It’s a Cinderella story to be sure, but the Cinderella narrative of 1950s Disney doesn’t apply. Forget the prince – this modern Cinderella overcame the temptation to quit, did the work, beat the competition and took the castle for herself.
However, in one irony, she doesn’t get to go to the ball quite yet. With the Covid interim, the way things are recorded, and the fields that are set have gotten out of order. Many of the goodies, including some other major exemptions, don’t start until next year. Apparently, Sophia Popov is not in the ANA Inspiration Field, and her $675,000 check won’t be counted as official money. She is in the LPGA, but not necessarily in the U.S. Open, an exemption that starts next year.
An outcry is already being raised with the powers-that-be about setting that all straight, so that Popov gets all the reward she deserves. We don’t know what they will do, but whether or not that check is good on tour, the bank is sure to accept it.
In a real Cinderella story, for either women or men, the victor has to bring it on four consecutive days. Playing one great round is impressive and certainly no fluke, but a person who puts the magic together from Thursday to Sunday has a more abiding game, and deserves to be taken with extra seriousness. That Popov put four such days together and finished with such poise eliminates her from the ‘one-round wonder’ status.
All in all, Sophia’s performance was a one-in-a-million master class in how to get back a tour card while getting well-paid in the process. It was a credit to her own hard work and her nation, and a statement to Cinderellas everywhere – not the 1950 kind, the 2020 kind.