Sophia Popov’s victory at the 2020 AIG Women’s Open is still as fresh in her mind as the breeze from Fort Myers, Florida. What seems like a distant memory is its connection to the host city of this week’s Drive On Championship. Just three miles down the road from the Crown Colony Golf & Country Club is Cypress Lake Country Club, where Popov finished second to now LPGA Tour member Madelene Sagstrom at the 2016 Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial on the Epson Tour.
Fast forward six years and the two find themselves in the same group of 120 players, both winners of the LPGA Tour and Popov a major champion.
“The experience that I had on the Epson Tour, and that I had a few years there, was extremely valuable. I think learning to travel on your own, to go from tournament to tournament, to be being able to play under pressure while doing your own thing and trying to find your routine that you like to do is so important before you go out on the LPGA,” Popov said. “When I got my LPGA Tour card in 2015 everything right out of college I obviously had some health issues that I was battling with, but it was hard to immediately know what you were doing and be comfortable. I think being on the Epson Tour for at least a year helps players grow and find themselves.
Now Popov also calls the greater Fort Myers area home, as she and her husband Maximilian Mehles have a home in Naples. She trains at the Naples National Golf Club and spends time with her grandmother, who is also based in the area. It all adds up to a week full of memories, family and fulfilling her dream as an LPGA Tour professional.
“I spend quite a bit of time with her. Coming home and seeing her every day is really nice,” Popov said. “Then I can come home and cook every night. about my healthy eating, which is really, really important to me, because if I don’t eat as healthy as I can, sometimes I get really tired and tired.
“When you’re in your own kitchen, you know where everything is and that it’s fully stocked. I think that’s my favorite part [of a hometown event].”