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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – It reads like a slogan on a bumper sticker.
“Let's just try to make the best out of any lie that I have.”
Those are the words of Sophia Popov, who has caught her fair share of both good and bad lies throughout her career as she struggled to maintain status on the LPGA Tour and battled Lyme disease. But since her breakout major victory at the 2020 AIG Women’s Open, Popov has had far more favorable breaks than bad.
This week, she’s making her debut at the ANA Inspiration, having earned a spot in the field with her major victory. It comes six months after critics voiced concern about her not being able to compete in last year’s ANA, which was postponed from April to September because of the pandemic. Because the field had already been set prior to Popov’s victory and she wasn’t an LPGA Tour member at the time, she wasn’t eligible to compete until this edition.
But living true to her own advice, Popov has made the most out of what was a bad lie, and turned it into a good one. She carded rounds of 70-69 this week to put herself within a few strokes of the lead heading into the weekend at Mission Hills Country Club.
“It's kind of what I hoped for,” Popov said on Friday. “I watched this tournament so many times. Been here, watched my former teammates play. It's an amazing course, obviously in really good condition, and I'm playing, I guess, up to my expectations, so that's good.”
Popov’s newly minted status as a major champion earned her a spot in Wednesday’s charity match benefitting Annika Sorenstam’s foundation. Popov teamed up with fellow surprise major champ Pernilla Lindberg (2018 ANA), to square off against Danielle Kang, the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA champion and Sorenstam, a 10-time major winner.
“Honestly, I was more nervous there than I was teeing off on Thursday,” Popov said about the charity match. “I think this benefitted me in that way.”
Being positioned among the game’s elite has been a learning experience for Popov. But since her win, she has started to grow in confidence. And she’s parlayed that into success on the golf course as she has two top-10s in her first four starts of the year. For a player who won multiple times on the Cactus Tour before winning at Royal Troon, Popov isn’t taking for granted the good lies she’s getting at this stage in her career.
“So when a round could go one way, [or] it's going the other way, I feel like I don't have a lot to lose,” Popov said. “I wouldn't even say every part of my game is 100% right now, but I think the confidence is really giving me that little edge.”
Popov’s first trip around Mission Hills has been nearly flawless. Players have raved about the course’s condition, and Popov is no different. She says she hasn’t caught a bad lie once this week. But, if she were to catch one, she’s already told her caddie, Michael Eaves, they’ll just have to make the best of whatever comes their way.
“You get tough lies, but that's what I think I love about major championships,” Popov said. “I think that's the attitude that I have. Let's just try to make the best out of any lie that I have.”