First-time winners Ally McDonald, Sophia Popov playing ‘free’ at Pelican GC

BELLEAIR, Florida – Over the course of the past 24 hours, Ally McDonald and Sophia Popov have used the same word to describe their current mental states: free.

Winning, it seems will do that. Free up the mind. Free up the swing. Free up the purse strings.

McDonald and Popov, two first-time winners on the LPGA this season, played alongside each other in the first two rounds of the Pelican Women’s Championship and find themselves 1-2 on the board midway through Friday’s action.

McDonald holds the clubhouse lead at 7 under at the newly renovated Pelican Golf Club after a sparkling 4-under 66. Popov, winner of the AIG Women’s British Open, cooled off a bit with her even-par 70, but sits one shot off the lead.

Both credit hot putters for their ascent.

“They’re not on camera,” said Popov, “but I think I made more feet of putts today for par than all of yesterday, and I thought I putted really well yesterday. But today I made a lot of key putts. I think I made about three 10- to 15-footers for par, and those keep the momentum going.”


More solid ball-striking gave McDonald better looks at birdie on another gusty day at Pelican, where firm, undulating greens make approach shots critical. McDonald, winner of the LPGA’s last event in Georgia, hit every fairway and 15 greens.

“I wouldn’t say that I feel carefree or careless,” said McDonald. “I just have a little bit more I guess confidence. I don’t feel as stressed about things since I got that win under my belt.

“I know tomorrow is going to be completely different, but it definitely helps to know that I finished a golf tournament a few weeks ago and still carrying some positive momentum from that.”

While the three-week break in the schedule wasn’t ideal for McDonald’s momentum, she appreciated the time she had to fulfill media obligations.

“I can’t imagine having to tee it up on a Thursday after that dealing with media stuff,” she said.

Ally McDonald during the second round of the 2020 Pelican Women’s Championship at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

McDonald, who got married during the LPGA’s COVID-19 break, said happiness outside the ropes definitely helps translate to better golf. After winning the LPGA Drive On Championship on her 28th birthday at Lake Reynolds Oconee in Georgia, she drove home to Mississippi, following behind in her parents’ car. Her four grandparents were there to greet her.

“It was around midnight,” she said, “so they had paced floors long enough to hang around and sing happy birthday to me and everything when I pulled in.”

McDonald said she never questioned her ability to compete on the LPGA, but she did wonder if she’d ever win.

Good friend Angela Stanford can see the confidence rising in the young American.

“I don’t really catch her looking around a whole lot,” said Stanford. “I think she’s just concerned with what she’s doing, because she believes in what she’s doing.”

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