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When Sophia Popov got to the tee at the Inverness Club on Tuesday, the starter approached and said, “It’s a different job this year, isn’t it?”
Popov was at Inverness for a pro-am event ahead of the Marathon Classic in Toledo and raved about its mint condition. She’ll be back for the Solheim Cup Sept. 4-6. The starter, of course, was referring to the last time Popov was at Inverness in July 2020 for the LPGA Drive On event, where she caddied for good friend Anne van Dam.
The next week Popov, then a Symetra Tour member, played in the Marathon Classic. She used a pull cart and tied for ninth. She was one of 10 players who qualified for the AIG Women’s Open via a strong finish at the Marathon, though she didn’t realize it until van Dam told her after the round.
What happened next, of course, is the fairy-tale part: Popov, then ranked 304th in the world, won the British Open.
“When I played the practice rounds (this week), I went through some of the holes and how I had played them,” said Popov, “and I remembered just having my push cart. I’m like, ‘My God, things have changed a lot in a year.’”
The push cart is back in Arizona, where she uses it often for practice. Plenty of players have come up this week and reminded Popov of how much has changed, when she seemingly came from out of the blue to win a major.
“To me,” she said, “not out of the blue.”
Unlike last year, there is no major qualifying this week on the line at the Marathon as the field for the Amundi Evian Championship, to be played later this month, is already set. There is, however, a spot reserved for this week’s winner.
Sophia Popov from Germany brought a JuCad pull cart with her for the tournament and is going from the second to the third hole during the first round of the Marathon LPGA Classic golf tournament at Highlands Meadows Golf Club. (Photo: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)
Popov will compete in her first Evian this summer. She’ll also represent Germany in the Olympics in August. The firsts are flying for the 28-year-old USC grad who is now ranked 23rd in the world.
“I think right after the British last year I knew they had pushed the Olympics back a year,” said Popov, “and I figured with my world ranking now I’m probably going to take the top German spot, which was one of the first things that popped in my mind right then and there. I think I can actually make this happen for Tokyo next year.
“It’s been a big dream of my national team coach, too. He’s been my coach since 2006. He said, ‘We’re going to Tokyo,’ and I was like, ‘Hate to crush your dreams.’
“But then in the end it all worked out, and it’s been pretty special to know I’m on that team.”
For Popov, competing in Tokyo will fulfill a family dream that dates back generations. Her younger brother, Nicholas, swam for the University of Arizona and barely missed out on qualifying for the London Olympics. Mom Claudia swam for Stanford and never saw her Olympic dream come to fruition.
“You know,” said Popov, “with my mom not being able to travel in 1980 to Moscow, it’s just been something that has always been a sporting event that’s been so important to her, as well as us kids.”