A Little Inspiration…

Sophia Popov didn’t quit. Even when nobody would have blamed her if she had.

Because of her perseverance, she is now a major champion with full playing status on the LPGA Tour, having won the Women’s Open last weekend at Royal Troon in Scotland.

Up until very recently, Popov could at best be described as an aspiring tour player – having never gained more than conditional status on the LPGA Tour from 2015 – 2019. Also:

  • She missed securing her tour card by one stroke at the 2019 LPGA Tour Q School.
  • Her only option this past Spring (2020) was to play Cactus Tour events in Arizona. (She did win three times in April and May, but only collected $8,800 total in winnings.)
  • She earned a spot to play in the 2020 Women’s Open by placing ninth at the Marathon Classic in Toledo, OH in early August.
  • She was ranked 304th in the world going into the Women’s Open.

During the trophy presentation at Royal Troon, Popov said: “I almost quit playing last year. Thank God I didn’t.” 

Turns out that a big part of her struggle over the past six years has been a battle with Lyme disease which went undiagnosed for a long period of time. Wow.

Sophia Popov: triumphant through struggle. – Getty Images

Her story speaks to me because of some challenges I have had this season…and reminded me that there are likely many others on the Single Plane Swing journey who are working through challenge and struggle as well.

Let me explain:

An old shoulder injury reappeared for me this year – a lead-side shoulder AC impingement – which affects my ability to move into the impact position properly.

While I have been able to produce a swing that looks as close to the model as ever, when it comes to playing on the course and hitting a ball on the turf, my condition has led to some pretty sketchy ball striking.

I’ve posted some decent scores – the short game has been solid at times. (Have you tried the new Callaway Jaws wedges…I highly recommend!!) But the ball-striking just has not been there – and honestly, it has been a challenge for me mentally. (Ok…maybe frustrating is a better word.)

On my good days, even when I am not playing well, I enjoy being out there – practicing or playing. But on my bad days, I wonder why the heck I am doing this.

I’ve even thought about putting the clubs down for a while. (You know…screw 2020. All of it. … and look ahead to 2021.)

Like you, I want to be able to hit the ball pure. I want to KNOW where the ball is going when I hit it. And I want to know that it will fly the distance I envisioned for it. ( …is that too much to ask?  J  )

So, when Popov said: “I almost quit playing last year. Thank God I didn’t”, I absolutely got it.  And it inspired me to examine my own thinking about where I am at right now… and where I want to go.

I decided to revisit some truths.

The truth is that I am NOT striking the ball great right now.

But it is also true that I have made SIGNIFICANT strides in replicating the Single Plane Swing model. I can take this swing model progress and build on it…knowing that as I get myself in better physical shape to hit the ball, I WILL get to where I want to be.

The truth is that I have made progress with my shoulder…and if I stay on my physio plan, I will be much more comfortable hitting shots again very soon.

The truth is that I am NOT my golf game. Even though I think that I am sometimes.

And the truth is that Sophia Popov has reminded me that this game ACTUALLY DOES FEEL LIKE STRUGGLE sometimes. But that through struggle, growth is possible. And sometimes – when we break through struggle – we achieve heights we could not have dreamed of.

So, now I am re-dedicated to the plan. Ready to embrace and enjoy the process back to better ball striking. All of it.

And if you are struggling at all – I encourage you to take Sophia Popov’s story to heart. Perhaps it will create some fresh thinking for you, just as it did for me.

Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan is an International Coach Federation (ICF) - credentialed coach working in the arena of human potential. Paul’s clients are leaders, executives, athletes and musicians who are serious about transforming how they perform in critical moments. His experiences in leadership and development over a highly-successful 25-year corporate career have created powerful context and understanding for the leaders and executives he coaches. Additionally, his passions and experiences in sports and music have uniquely positioned Paul to profoundly impact his clients in those areas as well.

8 thoughts to “A Little Inspiration…”

  1. Thank you for this article. I too heard her message. I’m struggling with SPS changes. Two new sets of clubs changes. I most likely have over loaded my wagon. Maddening! Five months in, I’ve gone significantly backwards. Of course I think I’m 30 at 76. I’m committed to GGA. Wow! What a mess I’m in mentally. Oh, by the way I’m learning to play piano since the lock down. It seems to help.
    This is just crazy stuff for your edification as an instructor, mine as a want to be player.
    Your friend, M

    1. Thanks Michael. Totally understandable. One of the things that I think about often is how Dan Coyle in his book The Talent Code basically says that our language around developing skill is backwards… and that struggle is what learning and developing feels like. That we ought to welcome that for what it means about our longer term development. Seems paradoxical – I know.

  2. Great post Paul.

    I am in the exact same spot, having switched over to SPS recently. I believe in this process, but man did I need a complete overhaul in expectation setting – I thought I would be Moe Norman after a month and a half!

    I really appreciate the messaging in your article, and the continued positive reinforcement of everyone at GGA, which is to focus first on matching the model and the results will follow.

    How can I expect to have anything resembling Todd or Moe like ball striking results, if my golf swing doesn’t look like theirs? It’s a pretty good and direct point, and one that I frankly dismissed initially. The fault and trap that I fell into was that I had been a good player, I had had days where my ball striking was great, and based on that I concluded, wrongly, that the solution to making excellent ball striking a consistent and repeatable phenomenon must be some minor adjustment to my swing. All I can say from my own experience is that is not the case. Building an extremely repeatable swing motion that strikes the ball squarely is a difficult task, and I realize today that my old swing motion was not designed to hit the ball squarely on a consistent basis.

    So, long story short, I am on board with your message and the message of GGA in general, which is: match the model! In fact, as I see it today, my expectations should be directly proportional to the degree in which I am in fact matching the model. Thinking through that lens is a much more helpful way to process my struggles and let go of unrealistic expectations.

    All the best,

    Steve F

    1. Well-put, Steve. Thanks for sharing. I believe that there are many others going through exactly what you described…and your willingness to express it here will help them as well. Thanks for that.


  3. steve – just what i needed. i’ve literally been deconstructing my SP Moe inspired swing with the patient help of Graves Gold membership. i make one step forwards and two steps back because i’ve been rushing the strides i’ve made, playing a round (waaay too early) playing just so-so, looking at the video and realizing i’m back doing the wrong things (moving my head, slight pelvic thrust, hands above the plane line). all of this made me think, “why do i do this to myself?” so, to hear this story about perseverance gets me inspired and back on the highway. thanks.

    1. Great point, Bob. The good news is that the more intimate you become with the swing, the easier it becomes to make changes. But yes – it is a journey!

  4. Hi Paul,
    I enjoyed your article. When I had seen Sophia was leading the Open, I was like “well look at that a relatively unknown golfer is kicking everybody’s butt. Good for her.” I had no idea her personal situation. My situation might be like a lot of golfers – I haven’t hit one ball this year. In fact it is almost a full year. I normally get a driving range membership. Since I live in Canada I lose the winter months but Mid April to Mid October, even with a sore back, sore shoulders and sore knees I can golf. With Covid…. my income was just killed and I barely have money enough to pay the bills. No membership for me. No golf but I still have the sore back, sore shoulders and sore knees. Golf, even at the driving range, was my stress reliever.
    So I do drills, I practice my positions, I watch the videos and I hope next season will be different and my practice without a ball will help me. I know one thing for sure. I’m never going to angry about a poor shot or poor round ever again,

    1. Well said, Bernie. Living life well ( i have heard it said) is about being able to bring a productive context to each situation – much like you have here. I also wish for you that next year brings different circumstances – and you can get out and play and practice more!

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