Laura Davies on Sophia Popov’s AIG Women’s Open win, Dustin Johnson reaching No 1 and changing golf balls

Dame Laura Davies says world number 304 Sophia Popov’s victory at the AIG Women’s Open is a fairytale and feels Dustin Johnson’s 30-under-par victory at the Northern Trust shows he deserves to be the new world No 1.

Popov caused a huge shock as she won at Royal Troon by three shots, having lost her card on the LPGA Tour at the end of last year, qualified for the tournament two weeks ago, and overcame a long battle with Lyme disease.

Davies told Sky Sports News: “It’s one thing getting yourself in a position in a major as someone who’s never been there before, it’s another thing to play some of the best golf of your life under that kind of pressure right up till the very last hole. She bogeyed it but it didn’t matter at that stage.

“It is [a fairytale win] really. The struggle she’s had … I heard numbers of only earning £108,000 in prize money in six years and whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But to have the fortitude to keep going and keep going and believing in yourself and then getting the reward on that stage is quite extraordinary really.”

“Just solid from word go. She handled the right to left winds, the left to right winds, everything you don’t want on a links course she handled.”

‘Popov’s caddie also deserves credit’

Popov’s caddie for the Women’s Open was her boyfriend Max Mehles, and she told Sky Sports News how he kept her calm by talking about sailing boats and dogs on the beach during her final round, so she would not focus on the scoreboard.

Davies, who won the Women’s British Open in 1986 and hit the opening tee shot at this year’s event, spoke about the importance of the person who carries a player’s bag and clubs.

“You need a good caddie and she had a good caddie, and if you can see your players getting ready to start blowing shots stupidly by overthinking things, take their mind off it and by the sound of it he’s done an incredibly good job.

“He’s [Mehles] a really good golfer himself so he knows what makes a good caddie and he’s gone out there and he’s steered his player to victory. So he takes a huge part of it in the mental side of it, obviously she had to hit the shots, but you need someone reliable by your side that can steer you round there.”

The first golf major of the year was played without any fans because of the restrictions in place due to COVID-19 and Davies feels it has changed the experience for golfers.

“For her it would have been lovely if the grandstands had been full and people everywhere it would have made it a little bit more special. But when you’re out there in the heat of that, you don’t really notice because you’re struggling so much to try to get your pars and move onto the next hole.

“But it detracts from it unbelievably for the outside atmosphere and the buzz when you get there in the morning and there’s crowds milling around you’re signing autographs.

“There’s none of that now. You’re doing testing, you’re having your temperature taken. It’s a completely different thing now but I don’t suppose she cares too much about that now”

‘Extraordinary Johnson deserves No 1 spot’

Davies used the word “extraordinary” to describe Dustin Johnson, who reclaimed the world No 1 ranking with a winning score of 30 under par at the Northern Trust.

“Well it’s incredible 30 under. He had a 60, 64, 63. Obviously it was an easy golf course for those guys, there was a 59 earlier in the week by the other guy,” Davies added.

“But 30 under for four rounds is extraordinary. He was just in the zone as they call it, to win by 11 is just amazing, back to world number one and I think he deserves it after that effort.”

Davies: Maybe time to change the golf ball

Davies says it is maybe time for change after being asked about the debate of technology in the sport and the increased driving distances.

She added: “I think technology is great, for amateurs, it’s great for us the women’s professionals. But at the very top level they’re getting so much out of this modern equipment because they hit it and can press the ball so much. They just seem to be taking really great golf courses to pieces.

“Augusta a classic example. Every year they seem to buy a bit more land and try to make the odd hole here and there a bit longer. And it’s a shame that some of the great golf courses can’t cope with how good these guys are now. So maybe it’s time to slow the ball down a bit or put some regulations in.

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