AIG Women's Open: Sophia Popov enjoys 'mellow' chats with Catriona Matthew
“She’s pretty laid back and our conversations have been pretty mellow,” reported Sophia Popov, the defending champion in this week’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, of Matthew in reference to her captaining Europe for a second time in next month’s match at Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Having backed up her fairytale win in this event at Royal Troon just under a year ago with some strong performances on the LPGA Tour this year, Popov has guaranteed herself a debut appearance in the biennial bout.
She currently tops the four players to qualify from the Rolex World Rankings, with Carlota Ciganda, Charley Hull and Georgia Hall the others on course to make the team from that route when it is announced by Matthew on Monday.
Two other automatic spots from the LET rankings are currently occupied by Emily Kristine Pedersen and Sanna Nuutinen, with the latter feeling the heat heading into the final counting event.
That leaves Matthew with six picks on this occasion, with the contenders being led by Mel Reid, Matilda Castren, Leona Maguire, Anna Nordqvist and Celine Boutier but others including Bronte Law and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
“It's a little bit early for her to talk about too much because she still has some picks to make, but it’s been nice,” said Popov of the relationship she has developed with the North Berwick woman over the past few months.
“She's been texting me every time I've been playing well and just to see how I'm feeling. I got to play with her on Monday, which was very nice. We had a couple quick chats.
“But also just about everything in general. I don't think she's just someone to talk to only for Solheim Cup purposes as she’s been a great help for a lot of other stuff. She's probably deep down excited, but everything she says sounds really calm. I think that's the nice thing.”
As the world No 304, Popov wasn’t even close to being on the radar when she pulled off her huge shock on the Ayrshire coast last year, but, as the title holder in Angus, her face is plastered everywhere this week.
“It's been pretty fun, actually,” said the bubbly US-born 28-year-old. “There's been this video on a 20-second cycle in the clubhouse and I think everyone is fed up of seeing me, to be honest.
“Normally I'm way too humble of a person to even identify with something like that, but this week I can, so I'm just taking it all in. I'm like, ‘yip, I'm defending’ and being all cool about it.
“It's awesome. You walk in the locker room and I have one of the first lockers for all the previous winners and that's just something that's very cool and I honestly didn't even know about until I got here.”
Popov has an afternoon start in Thursday’s opening round, with Kelsey MacDonald, who is among five Scots in the field along with Matthew, Gemma Dryburgh, Kylie Henry and amateur Louis Duncan, hitting the opening shot at 6.30am.