Sophia Popov would like to play in ANA Inspiration in two weeks, for a chance to win consecutive major leagues, but says she understands the challenges the coronavirus pandemic presents and why she’s not getting a seat.
Popov, 27, a German who also has American citizenship, orchestrated one of the most brilliant breakthroughs in history by winning the AIG Women’s Open on Sunday, but didn’t qualify her for the second women’s major of the year.
ANA Inspiration was originally scheduled to play in April, but has been postponed to September 10-13, with the season paused for five months amid the pandemic. Camp exemption standards are set and, as a non-member, Popov’s Sunday winnings at the Royal Troon do not count as official, preventing her from qualifying on the only road left open to the ANA.
“It’s a disappointment for me, for sure, because you always feel that the former senior champion should probably play in the next,” Popov said in a conference call Wednesday from Cologne, Germany. “But considering the year, being just the odd one it has been, with the majors postponed, I think everyone is in a very difficult position. I think the decisions made are there just to be honest with all the other players. “
Popov was informed shortly after winning her first touring event that she was not qualified for the ANA. She said Wednesday she is unaware of any effort to change the exemption standards to allow her to play.
“I have a lot of feedback on Twitter,” Popov said. “People can’t believe I’m not playing. It is what it is. I am at peace with it. It’s nothing I’m so angry about. He gives me another week off. I’d love to play, but that’s okay. “
Popov got a five-year LPGA exemption with Sunday’s win. She can start dating him at the Change Portland Classic in three weeks, and she plans on doing it.
Popov won the AIG Women’s Open as a Symetra Tour player with no LPGA status. It’s a pretty inspiring story, having battled the complications of Lyme disease for most of the five years. She lost her LPGA membership last year, then failed to win her back to the Q-Series, failing by one stroke. When she arrived at the Royal Troon last week she was at number 304 on the women’s Rolex world rankings. She rose to number 24 with the win.
“It was just a whirlwind,” Popov said of the 48 hours following his victory. “I can’t keep up with all the messages I’ve received.”
Messages included an encouraging one from Catriona Matthew, the Solheim European Cup captain. Popov called the creation of the team “his greatest dream”. She plans to become a member of the Ladies European Tour.
Popov is now the second highest European in the Rolex rankings, behind only Carlota Ciganda number 17.
“You can’t understand what happened on Sunday,” Popov said. “Not in my wildest dreams I thought I would go to Scotland and come back with this trophy.”
Popov enjoyed the silver jug. He said it was filled with beer shortly after the victory, and it was filled with champagne more than once upon his return to Germany, where he is enjoying time with his fiance, Maximilian Mehles. Popov was born in the United States but grew up in Germany.
Just three weeks ago, Popov was caddying for his friend, Anne van Dam, in the resumption of the LPGA amid the pandemic, at the Drive On Championship. A week later, she unexpectedly stepped onto the pitch at the Marathon Classic after the LPGA was unable to fill her pitch with LPGA members. Her top 10 finish at Marathon earned her an AIG spot as part of a qualification for a special event within the tournament.
Popov said the challenges she faced last year led her to seriously reevaluate her place in the game.
“I was going to hang up and say maybe that’s not how my life should go,” Popov said. “Late last year, I looked into other options, like maybe going on air. This has been my post-golf dream since I graduated from college. I was seriously discussing it. “
His triumph is an inspiration to other players who feel at the end of the spirit.
“It’s really hard to quit,” Popov said. “You think, ‘What if? What if there was that small chance that something could change? And, honestly, with COVID, this was another serious drag on everything. At that point, I was supposed to play the Symetra Tour for two full years. It was a very, very serious consideration. That’s why this means a lot more to me than if it happened three or four years ago.