Sophia Popov recalls 'Carnoustie cringe' as she gears up for AIG Women's Open defence

While she may have been “embarrassed” by friends carrying a poster of her around Carnoustie a decade ago, Sophia Popov is perfectly happy about the prospect of her face being plastered around the Angus venue in a few weeks’ time.

Germany's Sophia Popov poses with the trophy following victory in the 2020 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 2020 AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon. Picture: R&A handout via Getty Images

“I was cringing because I was thinking no-one even knows me out here,” admitted the German, who was still an amateur at the time and making her debut in the tournament, as she recalled that red-faced moment in the 2011 AIG Women’s Open.

Everyone knows about her now, though, when it comes to that particular event after the then world No 304 pulled off one of the biggest shocks in the game’s history to land the title in its first visit to Royal Troon last August.

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Having used that as a springboard, Boston-born Popov is now up to 23rd in the Rolex rankings, sitting as the highest-placed European and looking good to make Catriona Matthew’s team to defend the Solheim Cup in Ohio in September.

Sophia Popov during the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia. Picture: Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images.

“It’s been a crazy ride,” said the bubbly 28-year-old of the past 10 months. “As unexpected as the turn of events for me were last year, it’s been a lot more of that this year. I’ve been playing well and more opportunities have been coming my way.

“Every week has been so fun and interesting, because I get to be that player I’ve wanted to be for so long. It’s been an amazing 12 months and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

“I’ve been playing with a different sense of confidence and enjoyment. I can finally unleash my full potential because I’m not afraid of the consequences, to be frank.

“It’s been fun to play almost every week, to decide where and when I play, focus on the bigger events. The moment I won the AIG Women’s Open last year, the Solheim Cup was at the forefront of my thinking.

“The Olympics were, as well, but the Solheim was always something I watched every time. I was part of the Junior Solheim Cup and I have so many friends on the team.

“Every year when it happened and I wasn’t on the team, I was a little disappointed. So it’s been a huge goal. I hope to make the team this year, because it would be the highlight of my career so far.”

Taiwan’s Yani Tesng landed the title in 2011 with a 16-under-par 272 total, finishing four shots clear of the field. This year’s edition, which the R&A are hopeful will have fans in attendance, will be over 6,800 yards, nearly 400 yards longer.

“I was first off in the morning at 6.30am as the European amateur champion,” recalled Popov of her baptism in the event. “I remember being very quiet, very serene, thinking: ‘I know exactly what this course can be like. Take every opportunity when the wind isn’t blowing’.

“I made the cut that year. I remember having to make a 10-footer for par on my 36th hole to do it, too. It was really, really cool, such a great experience.

“I got to play the 2012 Women’s Amateur at Carnoustie, as well. I saw it at its toughest and I’ve seen it when it’s not quite as tough. I’m not quite sure what I hope for this year!”

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