Kevin Garside: Charley Hull is our darling, a true game changer for women's golf
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Charley Hull left these shores one week ago a novelty among those who have a passing interest in golf and a non-entity for the wider sporting audience. She returns a substantial figure in the women's game and in urgent need of a publicist.
Hull is just 17 and when called upon to do so faced down the best the United States could throw at her in a Solheim Cup contest that turned increasingly visceral as Europe advanced towards a summit never before achieved.
Hull has been the trade story of the year in women's golf, posting five successive runner-up finishes on her debut on the Ladies European Tour. She gives the ball a ferocious lash, but more than that she functions without blinking under the greatest pressure. Who knows by what mechanism a teenage girl from Kettering not only copes with the demand but thrives on it?
With her haphazard blonde ponytail protruding from the back of her cap she looks like a babysitter who has inadvertently wandered into the wrong space. Her father, Dave, is a plasterer by trade. Her background could not be further removed from the elitist turf golf is stereotypically supposed to occupy. Yet here she was in Colorado, saying no to the high priestesses of American golf, you shall not pass.
The women's game in this country has not had a figure like her since Laura Davies, a woman who also walked to her own unique beat and who, by dint of her refusal to be moulded according to life's conventions, raised her profile way beyond the level of the game she played.
Thus far in the Hull locker there is no poker, or punting of any sort, to report. No endorsements either, all rejected so that she might give golf her full attention. Laudable though that is, it is a position she cannot sustain long. That daytime TV sofa circuit is plumping the cushions already in anticipation of her waltz through Heathrow. Win or lose, Hull's is already the most compelling narrative in what was rapidly developing into a historic tale.
Playing alongside Jodi Ewart Shadoff, herself only 25, Hull was part of a clean sweep of Saturday's afternoon fourballs, establishing a five-point advantage going into the final round of singles matches. Europe required three-and-a-half points to retain the trophy and four to win it for the first time on American soil.
The fourball maximum was utterly out of step with the tight nature of the contest across all four matches. Hull and Ewart were the first group out. The Americans had cut Europe's lead to a point after the morning foursomes. The momentum was with the Stars and Stripes and Hull and Ewart were up against poster girl and former US Open champion Paula Creamer and America's own supernova, 18-year-old Lexi Thompson.
By the seventh the lead had already been gained and surrendered by both sides. The tension was treacle-heavy and gaining in density when Creamer lined up a putt. Europe were in for three. Thompson had a putt for birdie to halve the hole but Creamer, who had already taken three, elected to putt out so that her partner might learn something from her line. On the advice of Europe's vice-captain Annika Sorenstam, Creamer's putt was conceded. Vice-captains are not allowed to advise. Officials were called. Protests were made. Creamer fumed. When Thompson eventually drilled the tricky 12-footer to halve the hole, a primal display erupted on the green with much fist-pumping and screaming.
Hull calmly walked through the storm, fiddled a little with her tee peg while her partner played then promptly smoked her tee shot down the middle at the eighth, a hole she would claim for Europe with one of five birdies in her opening 10 holes.
America levelled again at the 12th and once more at the 16th after Europe had stolen the lead at the 14th. The intensity matched the temperatures, which had climbed into the nineties. Hull was once again invited to demonstrate her unearthly poise at the 17th, piping another huge drive into the great blue yonder.
She was far from done with that. Thompson had fired her approach to five feet, requiring Hull to get close to maintain any hope of claiming a full point for Europe. You can guess where this is going. Her ball pitched over the bunker and rolled to tap-in distance. Thompson, some talent herself, missed her putt and Europe were dormie one. The rookie pairing made sure of the point at the last to give Europe a winning start to the afternoon.
Three of the four matches went to the final hole. And you thought the Olympics were the ultimate forum for women's boxing. This was knockout sport of the highest calibre, with history at stake.
The United States began the 13th Solheim Cup holding an 8-4 series advantage. A sense of American entitlement based on results and rankings suffused this event. And then Hull turned up. The world of women's golf may never be the same again.
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