There are many who still think golf is a game for old men, particularly after the decision to hold this year's Open Championship at the all-male Muirfield club. But on the greens of Colorado this week there will be compelling evidence that it is also a sport for young women.
Lining up for the United States in the Solheim Cup – the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup – will be 18-year-old prodigy Lexi Thompson. The Floridian is, though, a veteran compared to the European team's starlet, 17-year-old Charley Hull from Northamptonshire.
Hull first picked up a club at the age of two and, although that was a plastic one, she was swinging the real thing at four. Five years later she came through an entry of 24,000 to win the Ladies Golf Union Championship at Turnberry – there is film of this diminutive figure, barely as high as her golf bag, ploughing through winds strong enough to knock her off her feet en route to victory.
At 10 she was a single-figure handicapper and at 13 her parents, Dave, a former plasterer, and Basienka, decided to home-school Charley so she could fit her education around golf. It was a bold move but five second places on the European Tour this year, and wild-card selection for the Solheim Cup, suggest it was the right one.
"I think it was after Turnberry I realised I wanted to be a professional golfer," Hull said. "I enjoyed playing it so much and I wanted to be good at it. I can always go back to school later in life but I'm happy at how I am going on tour.
"Life is pretty good. When I come back home [to Burton Latimer, near Kettering], I see my friends and have a normal teenage life. When I am away it is my job, and I can stay in touch through Facebook. I try and practise six or seven hours every day, then relax at night, as you have to switch off."
The Solheim Cup is being given the full Ryder Cup treatment by Sky Sports when it begins tomorrow with three days of blanket coverage. The European team reconnoitred the Colorado GC course at Parker, 20 miles outside Denver and 6,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains, a few weeks ago and, said Hull, discovered it "can get very windy".
Europe hold the cup, having won 15-13 at Killeen two years ago, but have lost all six previous fixtures across the Atlantic and a tough match is in prospect. "It could be, but I think we have a well good team on paper," said Hull. "It would be fantastic to be the first team to win over there."
Hull does have previous experience of team events having competed in the Curtis Cup (for amateurs) last year and the Junior Solheim Cup (for amateur juniors) in 2011. She has won just one of her six matches, but the victory was under pressure, her 5&3 dispatch of Lindy Duncan on the final afternoon of the Curtis Cup helping to set up Britain & Ireland's 10.5-9.5 victory.
"I really enjoy the team events," she said. "There's a great atmosphere. Your team-mates are around you, cheering you on, and you're following them thinking, 'Oh good – she's up.' You really get into it."
Missing from the European team is English ladies' golf most recognisable name; Laura Davies who, unlike Hull, failed to gain one of the wild-card picks. Had Davies been in touch to congratulate Hull? "I haven't spoken to Laura, but she said to the captain, 'Good luck with the team'. I like Laura, she's a really good player. I've played with her a few times."
She and Davies have in common a desire to get on with the game. "When we've played, if there's no one in front us, we've flown round," said Hull. "I need to slow down some parts of my game, like my backswing. I suppose because I am young I want to get on with it."
Young sportspeople may well be nervous as they progress though the levels, but they are often blessed with an absence of the fear of failure that can inhibit older players. This seems to apply to Hull. Asked what she can bring to the team she said: "I'm just another golfer in the team, hitting the a ball around a field. I love playing golf. I just go out and enjoy it. I'm 17. I can relax."
Young winners: Female tyros
Michelle Wie, US
Became youngest qualifier in USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championships history in 2000, aged 10. By 14 she was playing in professional events and in 2011 she gained seven top 10 finishes. Currently ranked 82nd in world.
Morgan Pressel, US
Tuned pro at the age of 17 and is youngest-ever winner of an LPGA major championship. Current world ranking is 41.
Alexis "Lexi" Thompson, US
Qualified for US Women's Open aged 12, turned professional at 15 in 2010. In 2011 she became the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA tournament. Ranked 26th in world.
The Solheim Cup is exclusively live on Sky Sports as part of a year-round schedule of women's sportReuse content