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February 2, 2022

Sophia Popov

Fort Myers, Florida, USA

Crown Colony Golf & Country Club

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: All right, everyone, welcome inside the LPGA Drive On Championship virtual media center.

Pleased to be joined major champion, Sophia Popov. Welcome to the third event of the year. How are you feeling as we embark on the third event of 2022?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, all in all pretty good. I think the first two events have been pretty fun for me. I think after last year I just was pretty drained. Not going to lie. I was a little burned out and I took quite a bit of time off. I think I took five weeks off not playing at all because I really needed to.

So I got very excited about playing again the first two week at TOC and last week. And I think the first week -- I think I'm starting to get into things again. Still not quite -- I think my game is not quite where I want it to be, but it's definitely trending and I'm seeing some good results here and there.

That gets me excited to play again this week.

Q. What did you take away from the last two weeks that you want to bring into this week at Crown Colony?

SOPHIA POPOV: Everything but the cold weather. Like actually. No, I think my ball striking has been a lot better. I think if I can clean up my putting a little bit, that's definitely something that I have been working on a lot the last few days.

I think that's the difference between shooting a really low score and just shooting like 2-, 3-under. So I think if I can clean up a few things here and there and get it a little bit more comfortable with some of the shots I'm hitting, I think overall I kind of found my ball striking of about a year, year and a half ago again, and that's very promising for me.

So like I said, just a few putting drills that have helped me, and hopefully I can take that into this week.

Q. That ball striking you talk about, you mean when you won the major championship, that kind of ball striking?

SOPHIA POPOV: That kind of ball striking.

Q. Is it something that clicked for you to regain that confidence in your ball striking?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, definitely. I think I've always -- I think that's always been my strength. I've always been someone that in general hits a lot of greens and I would say doesn't have to rely that much on short game and putting.

But with that being said, I think during the Open and before and just after that, I was putting really, really well and I think I was working on it a lot. I think I got a little bit away from that again and just heavily relying on that ball striking again.

And now I'm kind of trying to focus back on that and go back to what made me play so well in that time span. So, you know, I think definitely I'm not neglecting the ball striking part because it wasn't that great the second half of last year, but I think definitely just focusing on actually making putts and scoring is probably the most important thing for me right now.

Q. We are in our fourth edition of the Drive On Championship. The first one you weren't playing; you were a caddie. Now here we are the fourth one. What does it feel like to be able to participate in an event like this that is very different from tournaments we have week to week?

SOPHIA POPOV: You know, it's actually -- it's pretty cool. I think that we quite value it as players to have another opportunity to play. I think we always come -- not always -- but as of the last few years we been coming off to a slow start because we're not going to Australia, so I think there is a big gap between tournaments.

To be able to have an event like that and have the support of the LPGA to say you know what? We're going to have 120 girls out there and put together a tournament early in in the season is really cool. I think it's tied to some of the summits we've been doing and being educated on some stuff.

I think that's been very cool. It's a little bit of bonding for us players, too. It's just us more or less out here. I think we can just go out and have fun, and it's kind of also one of those things where we kind of can create our own little content for this week, which I think is awesome. Kind of display the tour from a different side that I think other people haven't seen yet.

Q. How does it feel to be so close to home again?

SOPHIA POPOV: It feels great. Yeah, I live 45 minutes away, so it's been really nice to just sleep in my own bed and go home every night and forget about golf for a little bit.

That's definitely an up side for this week.

Q. Are you going to play in Singapore and Thailand?

SOPHIA POPOV: I'm not. Going to take Singapore and Thailand off. For me already looking at this year's schedule, last year I already decided for myself I need some bigger breaks.

I didn't take the necessary breaks I needed last year, and especially coming back from Asian events last year I was pretty tired and drained. As much as I love those events and I love the golf courses, playing last year, I think that for me just from a mental and physical standpoint, I think it's the way to go just to be fresh for the majors.

I think that's been one thing I want to focus on this year that I kind of put on the back burner a little last year, was being ready and ready to go for the majors. Those are our most important tournaments every year. Obviously they have the highest purses.

I think that's something I want to focus on more this year.

Q. What's it like having another competition that's not golf going on on-site still?

SOPHIA POPOV: With the ping-pong?

Q. Yeah.

SOPHIA POPOV: It's pretty cool. I decided to not sign up. I think everyone that knows me knows I can't just go about 80%. I'm always like 130% when I play ping-pong or pickleball or something like that.

I'm nursing a little bit of ankle injury, so I was told not to play this week by family members. So they said, You know, I know you can't just kind of go 50%, so you're going to have to sit this one out.

It's very cool. Fun to watch. I'm excited to see who wins.

Q. We're going back to 2016, but and you Madelene battled for the Epson Tour at Cypress Lake. What do you remember, if anything, about that, or just the experience that you got on that tour that has helped you to this point?

SOPHIA POPOV: Honestly, I think the experience that I had on the Epson Tour, and I had a few years out there, I think was extremely valuable. I think learning how to travel by yourself, go from tournament to tournament, be able to play under pressure while doing your own thing and trying to find almost your little routine that you like to do.

I think it's so important before you come out on the LPGA. I mean, when I got my LPGA card in 2015 straight out of college, obviously I had some health issues I was battling, but it was tough to just come out here and know immediately what you're doing and being comfortable.

I remember asking so many questions. Being on the Epson Tour for at least a year is something I think that helps players develop and become more comfortable. And I see that with the players that are coming off that tour. The top 10 from last year, they're coming out here and playing well and they're not afraid of being here and they know what they're doing and where to be and how to take care of themselves.

I just think it's very valuable.

Q. We talked a little bit about you being a resident of this area. I know you go back and forth between Arizona and here sometimes. What was the choice? I know 45 minutes, but down here that can be a stretch of driving. What's it like being able to sleep in our own bed? Are you cooking every single night for you and your family that are here?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, so it's basically just my husband and I that are here in Naples, and I think the nice thing -- and my grandma is here, which is very nice. I get to spend quite a bit of time with her. Just coming home and seeing her every day is really nice, just to see what she's been doing and her day. It's very refreshing because it's very different to what my day looks like.

Then I get to go home and cook every night. I'm very obviously -- I put a lot of emphasis on my healthy diet, which is really, really important to me, because if I don't eat as clean as I do then I get very tired at times and fatigued.

So I think that's been very important for me, to be conscious of where I'm staying every week so that I can actually cook and prepare my own meals.

That's nice. When you're in your own kitchen you know where everything is and you know it's fully stocked. I that's my favorite part.

Q. Looking ahead for this week, have you played a couple holes? Have you gone through a practice round? What do you think of Crown Colony as you got ready for the Drive On Championship?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, you know, I'm very actually pleasantly surprised. I didn't know the golf course. I heard from other members down where I play in Naples that it's a very good golf course, and I came here and yesterday I played the back nine; played the front nine on Monday.

Especially I'm pretty excited about the back nine. I think it's really a great looking golf course, very fun to play. It's difficult. It's narrow at times. It's just really, really nice I think design. It's in very good shape, really good greens, around the greens very nice.

So I'm actually pretty excited to get out there hopefully in slightly less windy conditions.

Q. Yes. This past couple events and also as you look ahead to the stretch that you have, are you testing any new equipment? Thinking about any changes? Have you made any changes?

SOPHIA POPOV: That's another thing. If you know me you know there is likely a club in my bag that's at least two to three years old. I don't like to make changes. I haven't made that many. I still have the same irons, the same putter; I did put a new driver in the bag.

But I think that's another reason why I decided not play Singapore and Thailand is I felt like my season wasn't long enough after our CME Tour Championship. I wanted to give myself that six-week block to try out some new equipment, see if there is anything that I want to replace in the bag.

I think most of the stuff I have I really like. It's always hard for me to justify changing anything, especially when I feel like I'm playing well.

But, yeah, I think that's -- this is the last week I'll play with the setup I have right now and then dive into that a little bit in the next two, three weeks.

Q. Last night we saw episode two of the LPGA All-Access CME Group Tour Championship, which is a new initiative we did, inside the look of the docu-series. You were featured on the pickleball court. You also said you feel like sometimes your pickleball game is sometimes better than the golf game. Have you watched last night's episode, and what was that experience like being able to watch that and see something like that come to fruition?

SOPHIA POPOV: Yeah, I think it's a very cool initiative to showcase what we do off the golf course. Pickleball is something that I love to do a lot, so that is fully me right there; 100% the competitiveness also.

I actually tried to tone it down a little bit for that video. Amy said, Okay, just be you but maybe not that intense. I'm like, Okay, I'll try. I'll try. But I'm going to try to win, and she said, Absolutely.

Amy and I bonded over that, pickleball. We love it a lot. Playing with Larry Fitzgerald two weeks ago, he's saying he's really into pickleball, so that was pretty cool. It's the fastest growing sport in the U.S. right now, so just something fun to do outside of golf. It's so different.

I grew up playing three or four different sports, tennis being one of them. Kind of brings me back to my roots and that athletic side of myself. I think sometimes being out here and playing golf and being on the golf course all day makes you kind of grind it out on the technical part of golf and just trying to be perfect, and I think I'm not alone in saying sometimes you look around and you compare and you forget who you are and your unique swing and what makes you as good as you are.

For me, it's that athletic side of myself. My husband, Max, is always trying to tell me, Swing more athletically like the way you are. I think pickleball brings that out for me, because just the speed and the reaction and all that stuff just helps me a lot.

So I think it's fun to show a feature like that because that's truly what we do off the golf course. It's something that takes your mind off at the same time, whether you're playing good or bad, so that's kind of been nice.

THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. Well, thank you Sophia. Best of luck this week.

SOPHIA POPOV: Thank you.

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