Troon: Sophia Popov marked her ball a few inches from the hole on the 18th green, pulled the brim of her cap over her face and began to cry in the arms of her caddie.
The realization had finally hit her. Against all the odds, she was about to become a major champion.
Moments later and still wiping away tears, Popov tapped in the putt to complete a two-stroke victory at Royal Troon and another fairy-tale story at the Women’s British Open.
Ranked No. 304, Popov had never won a senior professional event before. She lost her card on the LPGA Tour at the end of last year and only qualified for the British Open via a top-10 finish two weeks ago at the Marathon Classic, which she was playing only because higher-ranked players couldn’t attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This was just Popov’s fourth appearance at a major. And, as she would later reveal in public for the first time, she has been bothered by health issues for the past six years, notably Lyme disease.
“I knew I was capable, I just had a lot of obstacles thrown in my way.”
Still no obstacle big enough to stop
Just three weeks ago, Popov was ranked No. 390 and pushing a trolley for her best friend, Anne van Dam, at the Drive On Championship in the LPGA’s restart. She’s now a major champion and feels her success can be an inspiration to others whose careers are in a slump.
“Of course there is an elite amount of players that are always there and in contention,” she said. “But there are so many other players out there who can make it in any given week, and I want them to have the confidence they can do it, too.”
No. 8-ranked Minjee Lee, who played with Popov in the final pairing, finished third on 3 under after a round of 69.
Seven-time major champion Inbee Park was the only other player to finish the tournament under par, a 66 leaving her on 1 under and in fourth place.