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June 23, 2021

Sophia Popov

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Atlanta Athletic Club

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We're here with Rolex Rankings No. 22 Sophia Popov, our 2020 AIG Women's Open winner and a few weeks ago runner up at the Bank of Hope LPGA match play. Welcome to Atlanta Athletic Club. You've had a couple days to get out there and see the course. What does it look like out there for you?

SOPHIA POPOV: It's really nice. Like every year the past few years that I've played, it's just been incredible. KPMG just really stepped it up as far as putting us on golf courses that are just crazy good. It's in perfect condition, and it played really long yesterday because of the rain. But I think that's going to change. The greens are pure, so I think all of us are just really excited to be out there.

Q. What are the challenges that this golf course presents? We've heard bunkers, different nines, length, all sorts of things. What's the challenge for you?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, I think that probably the number one thing is the length, to be honest. You have a lot of mid, longer irons in, a couple hybrids here and there. Probably length and then the greens. You have to stay below the hole most of the times. Downhill putts are going to be really fast, really tricky, and then it's not the widest off the tee.

You know, keeping the ball in play and then, yeah, just trying to hit bombs, as Phil would like to say, would probably be beneficial.

THE MODERATOR: I wanted to ask you about the stats project that was announced yesterday with KPMG backing that up for the performance insights. How do you think that's going to help benefit you and the Tour and the stories we can tell and learning your game.

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, I think that's awesome. We've been saying it amongst us players and caddies, we've been saying it for a long time now, it's cool on the PGA TOUR, we've been able to see their stats for so long now, and comparing the stats and making it more interesting for the viewers, too, to say, this is actually where they hit it from 120 to 150 yards and so on.

My boyfriend Max always said if there's a stat for the girls like between 150 and 180 yards, I promise you they hit it closer than the guys because we've just got a lot of girls out there that hit their hybrids super close, and it's cool to see. But we have not had a comparison, so I think it's going to be very exciting to see, be able to compare some stuff, and just for the general viewership to see what's actually happening on the golf course.

Q. Where does competing in the Olympics rank on your list of accomplishments?

SOPHIA POPOV: You know, I'd have to say pretty much at the very top. The Olympics is a huge deal for me. It's been a big deal in our family. We watch it every time. We're kind of a little bit fanatic about it because it's just -- as far as the -- my brother and my mom were swimmers, so I've always been watching that, the track, gymnastics. I think it's the coolest thing. Since golf has been a part of it, it's just been very exciting. Just an incredible opportunity to be a part of that.

For me I know it's very, very special, definitely ranks up top.

Q. Given that, a quick follow. Do you worry that the men's lack of unanimous embrace of the Olympic event might imperil you all being able to participate in it down the road?

SOPHIA POPOV: You know, I think this year is different than other years. I think come Paris in three years, I don't think it's going to be the same situation. We've had some weird Olympic years with Zika happening in Rio and then with obviously the pandemic pushing this one back one year. So I think those are things that you have to also take into account, that a lot of players are just -- everyone travels with their families and they have to make their own decisions on whether they want to go or not.

Honestly for me it doesn't take away from how special that event is, and I think we're just lucky to be part of it, and I think it'll be as big for everyone else as it is for me, at least in three years from now, and then hopefully without any pandemics or anything crazy happening.

Q. When you won at Troon and eventually got to the next major, did you find your expectation level that much different from when you got to the British?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, so my next major was KPMG. KPMG was my next one. I didn't get to participate in ANA.

It was definitely different just because I knew my level of play was -- I think just in general higher just because of how confident I was on the golf course. I think that's one thing -- I love major courses. I love that they're long, they're tough. It's not a birdie-fest. It's all about who plays the most consistent golf throughout the week, and that's what I love about it.

So going into KPMG last year, that was what I was excited about. At Aronimink it was all about hitting the right spots, putting yourself in the right positions, and being able to score, but as well just protecting from higher numbers, and I think that's something that I really -- a situation that I like to be in.

So I think that I definitely expect more from myself. At the same time I'm just kind of trying to go out there, have fun and just enjoy being out there.

Q. You say it's more about winning majors, not making mistakes or making birdies? What do you put emphasis on?

SOPHIA POPOV: Probably eliminating big mistakes. I think that's a big thing.

You know, birdies will come if you stay patient. You hit a bunch of shots to 20 to 30 feet, you'll make a few putts, and just using the opportunities that you have, while at the same time just eliminating the big trouble. I think that's the biggest thing, just playing smart, missing the fairways on the right sides and missing the greens on the right sides.

Q. Have you ever done anything dumb when you've missed? In other words, when you've put yourself in a bad position, have you ever tried to do too much?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, just last week. I made an 8. That was really fun. I really enjoyed being stuck behind a tree for like three shots.

Yeah, I clearly have done dumb things before. But yeah, it's hard to say. There are always situations where I'm the kind of player, too, there's a tiny gap and I'm always like, I can get through there, I can do it, and a lot of times I can. But I have a great caddie that kind of keeps me in check a little and says, maybe chipping out is the right idea here.

So we go back and forth with that, but for the most part, I think I've gotten better at it, just being a little bit more conservative with my targets, enabling me to maybe eliminate bigger trouble and shoot more solid sounds around even when I'm at majors.

Q. Almost seems like it's a mistake if you try to pull something off and you do and you think you can do it all the time.

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, I mean, you live and you learn, so you just -- you make the mistakes and you learn.

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge of this golf course?

SOPHIA POPOV: I think the biggest challenge is going to be that -- I think it's a second-shot golf course. On the par-5s, putting yourself in good positions as far as lay-ups go, being smart about going forward or not. You have a lot of long irons in.

I think if you can just be, like I said, smart about where you hit it, and the par-3s are long and there's a lot of water, so just taking big numbers out of play.

I think it's not -- it's narrow off the tee, but it's okay. The bunkers are okay, especially with how packed they are right now. So I think it's about missing the fairways on the right sides, just eliminating kind of, I guess, the higher numbers by giving yourself angles into all the greens.

Q. The tee was back at 18 yesterday, but have you been able to go at the par-5s?

SOPHIA POPOV: I've been going at a few of them. Honestly I'm the worst at remembering holes. If I go back, I'd like to say it's like somewhere around 13 or so is a par-5 that I went for in two. I was hitting it fairly well off the tee yesterday. 18 was just a little bit out of reach from the back tee. I know they're probably going to push it up and give us a chance to go for it.

Again, just have to have a good number. I talked to my caddie Mikey yesterday and I said if I'm not fully comfortable and I'm not confident about the number that I have, I'm good with my wedges, laying up is always an option, just give myself a chance at birdie and maybe come down the stretch on Sunday you can be more aggressive. Laying up is never a problem around here.

Q. Curious what was going through your mind watching another non-member win a major and knowing what was going to come to Yuka, and what do you think she will bring to the LPGA?

SOPHIA POPOV: I mean, from the first time I watched her play and she was out there, and I think saw her play at the LOTTE the first time because I didn't play that event. I was watching it on TV, and I saw her swing and it's pretty much as pure as it gets as far as a swing, the athleticism that she brings with her, and listening to her interviews, she's just a very sweet person, too. She's awesome.

Honestly, to me it's all about those are the personalities and the players that we can only hope to have on Tour, and so seeing her when they told her that she was going to have LPGA status I think was the coolest thing. She was like, really? I'm like, how surprised can you be, you just won the U.S. Open. You're clearly one of the best players out here.

I just think it's awesome. She gets everything she deserves. She's a great player. She's a great human being. There's no reason why she shouldn't have a five-year exemption out on Tour.

Q. Would you like to see the LPGA have an automatic top 10 rule to get into the next event for non-members like the PGA TOUR has?

SOPHIA POPOV: I would like to see that, although I think there's -- I don't know if I would distinguish from where that player is coming from, from which Tour they're coming from. But I think where my heart is at, especially for the Symetra Tour players and LET members, players that are under the LPGA umbrella, they're paying their memberships, they're paying their entry fees every week, week in, week out. If they come in top 10 in an LPGA event, I think they should get the automatic exemption into the next event.

I do believe you have to reward great playing. Top 10s are not easy out here, and if you're good enough to have one, then you should move on to the next.

Q. There's been discussion on the PGA TOUR about greens books and whether they should be used or not. What are your thoughts on that?

SOPHIA POPOV: You know, I think -- I can't say I haven't been using them. I've been using them. But I do think there's -- green reading is a skill that not everyone has, and I think it's something that should be more important. We kind of lose -- to me it was a little bit sometimes that I felt like I lost the little junior player in myself, the one that got really excited about having a good read, hitting the putt where I wanted to and it going in, going, that was a perfect read.

Now I rely on green books a lot and I make mistakes because of green books because it takes away my intuition and the first thing I saw on the greens. I'm right there with a lot of players where they say, if we got rid of green books I wouldn't be very sad about it because I think it's a skill that every player should have. Honestly that's what your caddie is there for, too. If you have a good caddie and he's a good green reader, you can rely on that, too.

I think down the road it would be maybe a nice thing to slowly get rid of, and for pace of play reasons, too. I'm a very fast player, and I like for things to speed up out here.

Q. How far did your mom and brother go in swimming? How did you not become a swimmer? And what is the most indelible memory of the Olympics you have from watching them on TV?

SOPHIA POPOV: So my brother swam for University of Arizona. He was in Olympic trials for 2012 for London. He just barely missed out. He was a sprinter, so he was one of a lot.

Q. Is this the brother who was at Bank of Hope?

SOPHIA POPOV: Both my brothers came to Bank of Hope. It was the younger, the middle of us, 30 year old. So he barely missed out on London. He had a bunch of friends that went there. He was kind of bummed. He actually went to watch them but he didn't participate.

My mom actually made the Olympic team in '80. I believe that's the one where the U.S. boycotted, and so they didn't go. So she never got to go, and then four years later she had a broken elbow to deal with.

Kind of a dream that never came true for her, and at the time she was one of the fastest 200 free swimmers in the country, and the reason why I didn't become a swimmer is because of all that heartbreak.

My mom was like, you know, I want to teach you guys how to swim, but I wouldn't be mad if you didn't become swimmers because it's a very unrewarding sport, and to that point, I think the biggest memories that I have are a lot -- when I got older Michael Phelps started becoming one of the best swimmers in the world and probably the GOAT at that time and I watched pretty much all of his races. I got really excited about those.

Now when I look at the most recent ones, gymnasts, I just watched a Simone Biles documentary this morning and she's one of the most impressive people that I've ever seen.

You know, there are some key things that you see that are just amazing and where you see dreams come true, and that's what I'm hoping for.

Q. So you're carrying all -- you are fulfilling the dreams of your mother and brother in Tokyo?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, more or less. They're very, very excited for me, and they would love to be there. I think that's probably the toughest part of it is that they can't be there. But my brother and my mom, they're like, can we get the Olympic rings tattoos and just write "brother" or "mother" underneath, and I was like, you can do whatever you want to.

But I think it is part of that, and it's also why I want to go so badly is because I have two other people to represent that I feel like could have been there in the past.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Sophia, appreciate it. Have a great week.

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