THE MODERATOR: We are back with Rolex Rankings No. 25 Sophia Popov. Sophia is competing in her third KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and her first since 2018. This is her fifth start of the 2020 season and has a breakthrough win at the AIG Women’s Open several weeks ago. What have the last six, seven weeks been like for you since that blustery day at Troon when your life just changed?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, it’s been crazy. You know, it’s been probably the coolest five weeks of my life. For me obviously it was an unexpected win, too, and I got to enjoy that with my family and my friends, and so it’s been a little bit of a whirlwind with all the media and everything, but it’s obviously been awesome, and I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.
It gave me a big confidence boost going into Portland and ShopRite, also, so I feel like I’ve been playing some solid golf since then, and it’s nice to see that pay off now.
THE MODERATOR: You definitely have been playing some solid golf. Thinking back to Troon, how much inspiration do you take from that? You want to win and you need to move on at some point, but how much inspiration do you take back from that week at Troon as you move into the rest of this week?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, a win is a win. I felt like even when I won mini-Tour events before, it gives you a lot of confidence going into the next few weeks, and for me that win was — gave me all the confidence in the world. It kind of proved to me that I knew my game — I always knew my game was there, it was just a matter of being able to play well during the right weeks and keeping my card for the most part, and then I finally had the breakthrough win, and ever since it’s been kind of nice because I can kind of relax a little bit. On the course I think it’s changed my attitude even more, just being a little bit more calm on the golf course and letting it come to me instead of pushing for it or having to play super aggressive.
It’s just been really working in my favor, and that’s another part that I’m really enjoying since that win.
THE MODERATOR: We’re at your next major playing as a major champion where you get announced as “major champion Sophia Popov” and we’re at Aronimink. What are your thoughts on this golf course?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, I actually saw all 18 today for the first time, and it was super chilly this morning. I needed everything, mittens, beanie. I was like, I’m right back at Troon, which felt pretty good to me, but except for the fact that I was hitting like 3-hybrids into every green, and I was like, this is a little bit exhausting, so I hope they might put up some tee boxes.
But overall I think it’s an amazing golf course. It sets up well I think for my game. I hit it decently long, so I think that plays in my favor, and some good greens — huge greens. I feel like you can have about 300 different kinds of putts on there.
You know, you try to practice around them and see whether you can get any kind of lie you can possibly get in a tournament, but you’re always going to be somewhere else. It was nice. It’s just in amazing shape, and I’m really excited about going out there on Thursday.
THE MODERATOR: One of the fun things about this event is you go to a different place every year, someplace you’ve never been. What’s your practice of how do you practice for a place you’ve never been?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, it’s interesting, you go by the yardage book. You just kind of check, where do I want to hit this tee shot, pick some targets, pretty much can hit driver on almost every hole here, which is great, and then you kind of have to — like I said, you play by the yardage book so you see some of the plateaus on the greens and you try to play to a couple different ones and see how the ball reacts, and then on the back nine honestly I just played a game against myself or with my caddie, and I played my score and just tried to see was it scorable, what can you get out of the course. So that’s kind of been a nice preparation.
Q. I believe you went home after your victory at Troon; is that right?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah.
Q. How long does it take to really sink in?
SOPHIA POPOV: You know, I feel like it’s never going to quite sink in. I mean, eventually it will, but not this year. I mean, this is just my birthday present, my Christmas present, everything to myself. And I also — from talking to a lot of different players, men’s and women’s side, they all said to me, you know what, sit back, kind of relax. I know you want to get out there and play but really enjoy it. You’re not going to get that time again. Come next year it’s going to be crazy and you’re going to want to — you’re looking forward to every next tournament and you forget about what happened in the past and you want to really just enjoy it and take some time and spend it with your family. I took that time, I took three weeks, I celebrated with my family, with my friends, and I’m ready to celebrate a little bit more towards the end of the year, but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
Q. You said it was five weeks, the best five weeks of your life.
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah. Is that how long it was ago? Whatever it was since the tournament.
Q. Tell me what you did outside of playing tournament golf. What did you do?
SOPHIA POPOV: I went home to Germany first, saw some of my family, some of my friends there. I honestly didn’t play a lot of golf this week. Then I went back to Arizona to my immediate family and celebrated with my brothers. They were over the moon. They’ve been kind of waiting for this moment for a long time, and they were probably more proud than anyone else was.
I got to spend the whole week with my nieces and my family and just — played a little bit of golf, got back into it as far as my — seeing my trainer, my physio and everything, so I was ready to go. That third week off I started practicing full-time again and getting back into things, but those two weeks went by fast because it felt like you were kind of celebrating with everyone so it all kind of merged into one big celebration over two weeks. I wish it was a little bit longer to be honest, but I was ready to get going again. I saw everyone play at the ANA and I was really bummed, and I was like, now I’m ready, I want to go. Going to Portland was really nice. I was very excited about that.
Q. As the Women’s British Open champion, what gets you excited if it’s not on the golf course?
SOPHIA POPOV: A lot of things. I mean, I’m into anything sports. I was glad sports on TV was on again, so I was watching a little bit of that and kind of planning a couple trips for Christmas. I love skiing, so that’s going to be fun.
I like a lot of things. I like hiking, I like running, I like biking, road biking. I did everything during those two weeks, kind of everything that I can’t do normally when I’m on Tour. Yeah, I don’t know, just hang out with my family. I love that. That’s the most fun I have.
Q. A big check came with that win; did you splurge on anything or do you have any plans to splurge?
SOPHIA POPOV: No, it’s been like five weeks, and you’re like, I’m sure you’ve spent it on something. You know what, I bought myself a TrackMan. That was a dream of mine, and I couldn’t really afford it before. I was like, I really want one, and I always had to go see my coach to go get some numbers, and now I finally have one, so I’m really excited about that. All the other stuff I kind of let it come to me. I’m not typically someone who just goes out — I’m not a big shopper, so I don’t even know, I have to see — there’s some bigger things, some bigger projects I have in mind. Like I said, I’ll just let it come to me, and eventually — I’m kind of a — German people save all their money and then one day they pass it on to their kids or something. That’s probably what’s going to end up happening. Save for college funds and everything.
Q. What would you say is the biggest difference in your life since winning the British, and then also how many congratulatory text messages would you say you got?
SOPHIA POPOV: The biggest thing that’s changed since the British for me as a player or just as a person in general?
SOPHIA POPOV: I think the biggest thing has just been my confidence. You know, it’s funny, I’m a pretty confident person off the golf course and then when I’m on the golf course and it seems like I just — it’s not like — I know what I’m capable of, but it was just kind of believing in the fact that I can go out and shoot low, and no matter on what day, and I think that changed a lot, that I go out and I feel more like a sense of belonging and I can just go out and shoot low any day and be in the mix at any tournament now. So I think that’s changed a lot for me.
And then what was the second question?
Q. How many text messages?
SOPHIA POPOV: How many text messages? WhatsApp and messages and Facebook all together? It was crazy. I think the morning after I had close to 415 just text messages, which I still have not even replied to. So if you’re in the — I’m sorry. I’m slowly getting back to everyone. Probably a good 600 total. Obviously a lot of people that I don’t talk to all the time, and then a lot of people I do talk to all the time. It was a lot for sure.
Q. So I guess you didn’t get my text then?
SOPHIA POPOV: Or I didn’t get back to you.
Q. You were, I think, 304 in the world when you won. There was some extenuating circumstances with health and whatnot, but we’ve also had Mirim Lee win at No. 94 and Hannah was 114 when she won this last year. My question is should anyone, given the state of women’s golf, should anyone be surprised when that happens?
SOPHIA POPOV: You know, I mean, I think it’s always a surprise because you just don’t see it coming. But you know, it kind of speaks for the depth of talent out there. I think on any given week a girl that’s ranked 200 or 300 can play her best golf and win.
I think it’s like that on the — I wouldn’t say it’s not like that on the men’s Tour. I think every now and then you have a breakout winner, you have a surprise winner that no one was talking about previously.
So yeah, it’s always a surprise. It’s just kind of knowing that any girl out here this week can win because we’re all capable of playing some really good golf. I don’t know — of course the surprise factor is always going to be there, but I’m not surprised about any of the girls winning this week.
Q. Kind of as a follow-up to that, there was a time 20 years ago, and I don’t want to throw a bunch of numbers at you, but there was like 18 majors played and only one first-time major winner in that whole group. It was Annika and Juli and Seri, Karrie, the whole lot of it. Do you think we’ll ever see an era like that again?
SOPHIA POPOV: You never know. I mean, I just think it’s similar to the men’s game where we have a lot of good players out there now. The top 10 in the World Ranking for the women, everyone is up there every week. I think it just, again, speaks to the depth of the field and how good everyone is now, and everyone is capable of winning. That’s why not the same person wins every week. But you’ve still got your favorites every week, and I think that’s not going to change. It’s just that there are so many good players out there so you just never know, and I think that’s just the golf game today in general is like that. I think you’re just — it’s the same as Tiger Woods that won everything, you hardly find a guy out there now winning the same amount that he’s won.
We’ll see; maybe there will be. But I honestly don’t think so. I think more girls are going to win multiple events.
Q. I’m sure you replayed the final day at Troon here and there and think about it. When you get on the other side of that, is it about the shots that you physically hit or is it more about how mentally you handled the challenge of the day?
SOPHIA POPOV: I think a little bit of both. You know, I love to look back and I look at certain shots that I hit, and you know, it’s also great for me mentally to go back and look at those and remind myself of how well I was playing under pressure, and I think mentally it was a huge breakthrough for myself.
I think I’ve always battled the game between the ears more than anything else my whole golf career, and I think for me that was the most important thing. But I still had to execute.
So I think I look back a lot and I look at certain shots and I go, you know, I’m just — I think it’s a lot of self-pride in that moment that I was aggressive and I didn’t back off of any of the shots, and I just played — I went for most of them and went right at the pin and stuff like that.
I think it’s a little bit of both, but I think obviously proud of the execution just as much as the mental part.
Q. How does money like that hit your account on the LPGA Tour and how often do you go back to look to confirm that it actually was the right amount?
SOPHIA POPOV: I mean, it just hits my bank account like every week.
Q. On a Monday —
SOPHIA POPOV: No, not on a Monday, somewhere end of the — I don’t even know, end of the week sometime. I never even pay attention. At some point it’s there, and I’m like, oh, yes, I can go shop, which I don’t like, though. But I can — I don’t know, it came towards the end of the week, and of course you look at it and you’re going, man — it just feels like something illegal is happening on your account. And it still does. I still look at it and I go, oh, my.
But I’m kind of a very pragmatic person. Like immediately I would put half of it away, and I don’t look at it all the time, to be honest. I was doing — I just keep doing my taxes, do all my stuff that I’ve been doing the same way I did before, and of course it’s with a bigger amount now. I think the more often I look at it, the more I get used to it, but it’s definitely still weird.
You know, I think after a while you get used to it, and of course there’s been more coming in after, so I think that’s just something that — I mean, hopefully at some point I can just get used to and don’t have to keep looking at it. I try to ignore it, to be honest.
Q. I don’t know if you have an agent. I’m assuming you do —
SOPHIA POPOV: Yes.
Q. Has there been a lot more interest in Sophia since the win from outside sources?
SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, for sure. I mean, would be weird if it wasn’t that way, so definitely. But yeah, I let my agent handle that. Derek, do you hear that? Yeah, like everything goes to my agency, so for the most part — of course there’s still coming in, but again, they want me to play golf, I want myself to play golf. I don’t want to have to worry about that stuff, so I let them handle everything.
Q. A lot of players are kind of overwhelmed by media and attention after a big win like that, but you actually were mic’d up last week. Are you kind of like — is this fueling you, the attention?
SOPHIA POPOV: Well, in some ways maybe. I just have always been the kind of person, I like — anything that I did media related, I really enjoy it. Most of the time, to be honest, I was doing internships where I was working behind the camera. I wasn’t even in front of it. But I like working with the media, so I think for me, it’s something that comes naturally. So I wasn’t really worried about being mic’d up at all because I knew really all I had to do was just be myself out there and maybe throw in a couple of funny comments here and there. I was like, trying to make up for my group. I was like, you’re probably talking more than you usually do. But I really enjoy it.
So I said to them, it’s no problem to me. I don’t get annoyed by the mic or anything hanging out. I don’t know if it fuels me. I just enjoy it. So far. So far.
Q. What were your internships, out of curiosity?
SOPHIA POPOV: I just did some with German sports channels, and one of them was commentating the Solheim Cup for the Solheim Cup for German TV, so I did a couple weeks with them and a few things with our golf club in Germany when I was younger, like 10th, 11th grade, 12th grade I did some stuff, and then in college, too, I was a communication major. And I wrote some blogs, I worked for the history department in school where I was interviewing people. Just like little things here and there. I like doing that. Eventually that’s something I’m hoping to get into anyways.
Q. At the British I know you said your swing thought was just to swing aggressively. I was wondering if that’s still a swing thought you lean on or if there’s something new you’ve been employing lately?
SOPHIA POPOV: Definitely still swinging aggressively, but of course since the British I’ve looked at some just technical things, too, in my swing. I obviously don’t want to change a lot. Trying not to change anything to be honest, but I’ve just got the same thing I work on, which is lowering my ball flight a little bit, which I was trying to do for the British anyways, and it just helps my swing in general to have more solid contact, more consistent and hit the ball flight that I like to see, and I still work on exactly the same things. It’s not very technical, it’s just more of a swing thought or a movement thought.
Q. So how do you flight it down more?
SOPHIA POPOV: Just for me it’s just keep the hands in front. I’ve tried to — I’m someone who gets the hands — I get a little bit scoopy. Scoopy is a big — is not the right word probably because it’s not really scoopy but I try to keep the hands up front and shut the face a little bit more at impact, and that’s how — I try and use my body a little bit, all that together, just get a little bit lower.
Q. You mentioned the ANA and how you were bummed about not being there, and then obviously you know about the fact that you don’t get a five-year and all that stuff. Were you surprised at the amount of people that seemed to be in support of you when all that came out?
SOPHIA POPOV: Definitely. I mean, it was — honestly I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter or I didn’t before the British, and then after the British I was like, the whole thing was blowing up more than I honestly wanted it to. It wasn’t my intention at all. I just kind of took it the way it is because midway through a season I know there’s nothing that’s going to change about that, and I’m okay with that, I just — like I said, I just want to go out and play. That’s something that we’re going to deal with towards the end of the season.
But it was really nice to see that pretty much everyone was on my side, and I had a lot of support on our Tour and on the men’s Tour.
I think players in general, they — I think they could put themselves in my position, and I think they felt for me a little bit in that respect. But again, it’s something that I don’t think will be changed right now, and so we’re going to — we’ll see towards the end of the season whether there’s anything that can be done about it, or I just have to go out and play good golf. That’s not going to change.
THE MODERATOR: Troon where you won was a course with a great history on the men’s side, now we’re here at Aronimink and we’re playing so many tournaments with KPMG and PGA of America that have such a great tradition in the men’s game. How does it feel to you and the rest of the Tour as we come to places like here and Atlanta Athletic Club and Olympia Fields a few years ago with such a rich men’s tradition as we continue to promote and grow the women’s game?
SOPHIA POPOV: It means a lot. I’m someone who’s watched a lot of golf my whole life, especially the men’s side, just because when I was in Germany they wouldn’t show the women’s. So I would watch all the majors and I would see tournaments happening on these courses all the time. I think it’s amazing since KPMG has stepped in; the kind of courses they get us on is incredible. We were just out here this morning, we were talking about it, and I said, I love it, it’s so pure, it’s a championship golf course, it’s long, it’s very difficult. And I think that’s what a lot of us want. We want those kind of golf courses, and it’s just really nice to see because you can compare the games side by side, same golf course, and maybe not the same conditions and you’re not playing the same time of year maybe, but in general it’s awesome. Like I love it, and I’m just super excited for the next few years to come, also.