Sophia Popov hopes 'incredible' Women's Open win inspires girl golfers

German also reveals her battle with Lyme disease

Germany's Sophia Popov poses with the trophy following victory in the AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon. Picture: R&A handout via Getty Images
Germany's Sophia Popov poses with the trophy following victory in the AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon. Picture: R&A handout via Getty Images

Her golf was mighty impressive and so was her winner's press conference. In short, out of the blue the women's game has found itself a truly inspirational figure in Sophia Popov, the newly-crowned AIG Women's Open champion.

Nine months after being close to quitting, having missed a four-foot putt to secure her LPGA Tour status, the 27-year-old German became a major champion at Royal Troon on Sunday, bursting into a flood of tears before she'd even knocked in a tiddler to claim a two-shot success.

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The waterworks were understandable. Popov was the world No 304 heading into the event and was on the verge of packing it in following that bitter disappointment at the LPGA Tour Qualifying School.

She's not just turned her career on its head by pulling off one of the biggest shocks in the sport's history but also delivered an inspirational story, both for players already in the game and also a new generation of young girl golfers.

"I guess it is an incredible story and, just personally for me, I think that's why I broke down on the 18th hole because it's been something I couldn't have dreamed of just a week ago," said Popov as she savoured becoming the first German to win a women's major and also joining Bernhard Langer and Martin Kaymer as major champions.

"It's incredible that golf allows for these things to happen because, you know, I think the difference between two players any given week is never that big. It might be 15 to 20 shots that week, but, really, the ability of the player is not that far apart, and the hard work they put in is the same.

"I think it nice that every player, every week, gets an opportunity to win, and I was one of 144 players this week that has an opportunity and that has the skill level and I just happened to have pretty much the week of my life."

Popov's victory, which was worth $675,000 after only earning around $100,000 in her career before last week, came just over 12 months after Japan's Hinako Shibuno lit up the golfing world as the "Smiling Cinderella" with her win at Woburn.

"You know, the last two holes, I really had to think about this, because it's pretty incredible," admitted Popov in reply to being asked how much she felt her title triumph could inspire other players in the game. "I have a great group of friends on the Symetra Tour, and on every tour level, and I think now a lot of the girls on smaller tours are going to be thinking, 'you know, I can be there, and I can do it, and I want them to have the confidence to go out there' and know that they can.

"Of course, there's an elite amount of players that are always there and they are always in contention and they are always playing well. But there's so many other players out there that can make it any given week and I want them to know that and have the confidence that they can do it, too."

In that press conference that saw her clutch the trophy from start to finish as if she thought what had happened might be a dream, Popov also opened up on the health issues that she had to overcome early on in her professional.

"It's honestly something I haven't really talked about a lot before, but my rookie year, I started having a lot of health issues, and honestly we didn't even know what it was. It took about a total of about 20 doctor visits three years later to figure out that I had Lyme disease," she said.

"At that point, it was so chronic, though, that I had just been struggling a lot with fatigue. I had like ten different symptoms and it was just a very tough time to go through just because I didn't know what it was, and it took so long to pinpoint exactly what was going on.

"For me to regain all my energy - I lost like 25 pounds and had to regain all of that and get back to where I was before - was just a struggle, and really, only my inner circle knew about that until now.

"Lyme is obviously something that sticks with you to be honest. But I'm very disciplined as far as, you know, my health goes, my nutrition goes and working out and doing everything in my power to have as little as possible symptoms, and round, I have it under control really well. I want to keep it that way.

"But it was a long road to get here because there was a lot of personal research and figuring out on my own what would make me feel better, and I'm glad I got to the point where I'm feeling pretty good, and hopefully it stays that way."

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