TOLEDO, Ohio – Inverness Club is no stranger to many of these Solheim Cup competitors, Sophia Popov included.
Members of both the U.S. and European teams competed in the LPGA Drive On Championship last July at the Donald Ross gem. Popov, however, is not part of that group. Here's why: She didn’t have status on the LPGA, so she opted to caddie for her best friend, Anne van Dam, who was in the field.
At the time, Popov had an eye on the future, thinking van Dam, a rising star who had made her Solheim debut a year earlier, would be returning to Inverness for a second cup and she'd possibly be on the bag.
Instead, it is Popov who is teeing it up, as she's gone from caddie to Solheim competitor in just 14 months.
“That was so much fun for me that week, and I think it led to a lot of the moments that followed,” Popov said. “I just can't believe that's a year ago because I think a lot has changed for me.”
A lot has changed, indeed.
As Popov prepares to make her debut for Team Europe, her presence at Inverness this week marks the latest in a series of firsts for the German. Three weeks after caddying at Inverness, Popov won the AIG Women’s Open for her first win and maiden major title. She then added another chapter to her fairytale story when she represented Germany for the first time at the Olympic games in Tokyo in August.
It’s a dream that Popov couldn’t have fathomed just one year ago.
“I always want to be a part of this team and obviously winning a major I think is every female golfer's dream,” said Popov. “Those are my two biggest goals, and now being able to achieve the second one just means a lot to me.”
“I'm having the greatest time right now,” Popov added with a wide smile. “Just being out here with a lot of girls that I'm good friends with and that I really enjoy being around has just been so fun, and I think I'm really taking in the atmosphere a lot.”
Popov is certainly ready for her big debut in the biennial matches. Popov retained a lot of knowledge from last year's Drive On, where van Dam tied for 11th, including notes on Inverness' many little intricacies, and she's prepared to use all of it this week.
“I feel like I know this course really well just because I caddied, and I took it very seriously that week,” Popov said. “Anne was trying to reel me back a little bit, but I wanted to walk the course, I wanted to check it out.”
This time will feel a little different, though. The Women's Open that Popov won and last month's Olympics were both played without fans. So, too, was the Drive On last summer.
But the Solheim Cup? More than 100,000 spectators are expected to attend.
Popov can't wait to experience that kind of energy.
“Lifting your first major trophy is very incredible, but I think this, from an atmosphere standpoint, almost tops it,” Popov said. “I think you don't realize the energy that's in this crowd until you're actually here. And I wanted this so badly, and to be part of this team, so I think up until now it's just, everything is living up to my expectations.”