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  • Alistair Tait

Popov's story should boost women's golf

The power of sport never fails to amaze. It did so again in the final round of the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon.

Anyone not moved by Sophia Popov’s fairy tale win doesn’t have a pulse.

More importantly, hopefully this wonderful advert for women’s golf will entice sponsors to dig into their coffers to back the women’s game. Once again, the world’s best women proved they can pen heart felt stories that resonate with golf fans.

I’ve been there, done that, in the royal & ancient game. Yet there I was on Sunday afternoon with tears running down my face as I watched Popov pull off the unlikeliest of victories. I wasn’t alone. Hardened people in the game were also shedding tears. Trish Johnson admitted as much during TV commentary, and she’s a 19-time Ladies European Tour winner who played in eight Solheim Cups.

Popov’s story is one for the ages. The ultimate rags to riches tale even Horatio Alger would have struggled to pen. A week ago Popov was a complete unknown. Last month she was caddying for Anne Van Dam. Early this year she was on the Cactus Tour. A year ago she considered giving up the game. In her rookie year she discovered she’d been hit with a crippling disease.

“My rookie year, I started having a lot of health issues, and honestly we didn't even know what it was,” Popov said. “It took a total of about 20 doctor visits three years later to figure out that I had Lyme disease. I had like ten different symptoms. It was a tough time to go through just because I didn't know what it was. 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. It was just a struggle.”

Now she’s a major champion. Where do these stories come from? Even Popov doesn’t know.

“It is an incredible story,” she admitted. “That's why I broke down on the 18th hole because it's something I couldn't have dreamed of just a week ago. It's incredible that golf allows for these things to happen."

She’s not the first fairy tale winner of the Women’s Open. She’s the second in a row. Who’d have thought this year’s story would better Hinako Shibuno’s win at Woburn last year? Or come close to Catriona Matthew’s 2009 victory at Royal Lytham?

Matthew’s win is, for me, the greatest victory since the Women’s Open became a major, perhaps the greatest story in women’s golf. She pulled it off less three months after giving birth to daughter Sophie. She also had the pressure of not only trying to win her first major, but become the first Scottish woman to win a major.

Matthew has never really received the credit she deserves for that victory. Sadly, neither did women’s golf. It didn’t prove to be the boom we were hoping for. Surely this victory will be different? Surely there are sponsors out there who witnessed a great week at Royal Troon who will dig into their coffers to back women’s golf?

The R&A staged a fantastic championship despite all that’s going on in the world right now. Course set up was brilliant and, perhaps most importantly, pace of play was never an issue. The first group on Sunday took three hours and 12 minutes. The final pairing of Popov and Minjee Lee took three hours and 46 minutes, a respectable time given the rigours of the golf course and the pressure of trying to win a major championship.

You couldn’t make up a story to rival Popov’s. If you did you be called a fantasist. No fantasy at Royal Troon. Just further proof golf is capable of producing great drama to move the hearts and tear ducts of even the most hardened golf fans. And hopefully sponsors to invest in women's tournaments.

#JustSaying: “Sophia played so well. Whenever she looked like she was going to make bogey, she would make a par putt. I didn't think anybody could have beaten her today.” Minjee Lee

Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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