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Do majors matter? They do to Sophia Popov
Just a few weeks ago, Sophia Popov was caddying for her friend, Anne van Dam, in the LPGA’s return at the Drive On Championship in Ohio. She had status on the Symetra Tour, and that’s what got her into the Marathon LPGA Classic — because the Tour was having trouble filling out a field still hampered by travel concerns for Asian-born players. She finished T-9 that week and got into the AIG Women’s Open.
The German-raised Popov also got into the ASI Ladies Scottish Open, but she decided to skip that to play in the Symetra Tour event in Arizona. She was committed to trying to earn LPGA status through the developmental tour’s money list, not a one-time shot. She finished second in Arizona, flew out to Scotland. And the rest is history.
The bizarre nature of the pandemic and the LPGA’s restart created this opportunity for Popov, and she took advantage. She played incredible golf on Sunday at Troon, looking not like someone who was seeking her first big pro win (she won three times on the Cactus Tour, a women’s golf mini-tour based out of Arizona) but someone who had won a major or two in her life. Thanks to her performance, she’s now a major champion — the most unlikely in golf since 2003 — and has a five-year exemption on the LPGA. She earned $675,000 for the win, which sextupled her career winnings.
At times we debate whether we overvalue majors and their meaning for a player’s legacy. In the right framing, majors are overrated. But in Popov’s case, they’re not. Her win is incredible. It would have been a tremendous story had she done it at the Marathon LPGA Classic. However, that she did it in nearly unplayable conditions in a major championship when she had never been able to demonstrated that level of golf in her young career makes it all the more special, shocking and unforgettable.
Do majors matter? Maybe not to Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson won by 11 on Sunday at The Northern Trust. Eleven. He finished on 30-under 254, just a shot off both PGA Tour 72-hole scoring marks, in aggregate and against par. He’s the first guy to get to this level of golf outside of the state of Hawaii. He’s the first guy to win twice in the restart, and he’s basically the third-best player in the history of the FedEx Cup playoffs (Tiger and Rory are the top two).
DJ’s best golf has been played outside of the majors, doing incredible things that leave his peers’ mouths agape. Does that make his accomplishments any less than how they would be perceived if he had won, say, five majors by now? Yeah, but why? DJ won the deepest non-major in PGA Tour history yesterday. He routinely wins against tough fields. He’s an incredible talent that’s clearly going in the World Golf Hall of Fame someday.
We frame golfers’ post-career mythology around the majors. There are lots of less-talented golfers than DJ with more majors than him, including Padraig Harrington and, yes, Jordan Spieth. DJ is the perfect PGA Tour player. Doesn’t that mean something?
We’ve yet to come up with an agreeable analog to compare majors to WGCs to Players to regular events to playoff events. The OWGR tries to do that, and it does it pretty well, but it’s often panned because of its clear flaws. When we get to one, though, we’ll probably realize Dustin Johnson is even better than we think right now. And we already perceive him as an incredible player.
What I’m reading, watching and listening to
Phil Mickelson is 2-to-1 to win his PGA Tour Champions debut: Mickelson surprised people when he announced on Twitter that he would be making his PGA Tour Champions debut today at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. The betting world is assuming he’ll roll, as he’s a 2-to-1 favorite to win. Jim Furyk was 3- or 4-to-1 a few weeks ago, and he won in his debut. How will Phil do?
This 4-year-old made a cross-handed ace: Golf is a game of a lifetime, and 4-year-old Rocco got his golf life off to a great start with an ace (made cross-handed!) at Oglebay Park, not too far from my in-laws. His joy is wonderful.
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) August 23, 2020