It was 10 years since her first and last sighting of Turnberry, too distant for her brain’s server to download meaningfully. Charley Hull is just 19. Last week was ancient history never mind a decade ago.
From the first tee, the line of sight is filled by a wall of gorse. Beyond it, unseen, the green. Before it, and very much in view, bunkers left and right. “What’s the club here?” she asked of the local caddies. “Lay up, no more than a four-iron. You don’t want to be in those bunkers.”
Her own caddie, Gary, already had the cover off the big stick. “It’s the only way I can make practice work. I have to hit a driver on every hole, to put pressure on myself,” she said. The professional golfer plays a different game, and Hull is at the vanguard of different again, one of a clutch of bright young things resetting the parameters of what is possible in the women’s game.
Hull turned pro at 17. As is the demand these days, she was on it from the first whistle, racking up five second places in her first five events as a professional. She rounded off her rookie year as a winning member of Europe’s Solheim Cup team, memorably taking down Paula Creamer in the singles, and in her second year won the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit.
The violence she imparts on the ball is like that delivered by lumberjacks taking down a giant redwood, the club face accelerating along its downward arc, crashing into the ball at more than 100mph and sending it fizzing through the ether, a dimpled orb-cum-bullet.
Hull shot 69, coming home in 33, despite having to endure my lumbering presence, hacking the ball hither and thither. “Garside and gorse, sounds like a law firm,” she said as I went in search of yet another lost cause. Cue peals of laughter from the middle of the fairway. Hull loved that. The craic is at least a part of what it’s about for this free-wheeling teenager from Kettering.
“I love playing golf. I feel I know how to switch off, go home and hang out with my friends. That keeps me fresh. I love playing with friends at home, going out with the lads, having fun, putting it behind the trees, drawing round, shaping shots. Kettering is great in the summer because it is quite tricky. Fifteen of the 18 holes are out of bounds down the right so you can’t block it.”
Only La Hull could be plotting a route around Turnberry, one of the great links courses in the world, and see Kettering Golf Club as the ultimate reference. This is her essential appeal, a refusal to be packaged despite the obvious attributes that lend themselves to sponsorship campaigns.
“They [in Kettering] just see me as Charley. It keeps my feet on the ground,” she said. “I’ve known them all since I was younger. I know I’m a good golfer, but at the end of the day I’m just a person. I try not to take it all so seriously. I’m young, I love mucking about, having a laugh. This is just a game and we are all lucky to play it professionally. For us a bad day at the office is a missed cut, for someone in the army they can lose a limb.”
It is a fine attitude and one that she will do well to hang on to as responsibilities begin to crowd, not least managing the weight of professional expectation quickly attached to her prodigious talent, and which carries an extra loading in major week. On Thursday she contests the fourth major of the women’s season, the Ricoh Women’s British Open, as one of those the game has identified as a breakout performer, a headline maker. That is a hell of a burden to process in a 19-year-old head.
Laura Davies has been that soldier in an age when women’s golf did not occupy quite the public space it does today. She sees so much of herself in the blonde supernova and smiles knowingly when assessing the story so far.
“Charley is in that stage of her career when she goes for everything, as if she has only one gear. She is utterly fearless on the golf course and, while that is a fantastic quality to have, it can get you into trouble. Ultimately, it has to be tempered a fraction to get results, but this comes only with experience.”
Hull is getting there, while at the same time battling to contain the fury. “I get angry if I’m playing well, having a good round,” she admitted. “If I make a par after six birdies it annoys me. I was eight under through 12 earlier this year then came back in par. That annoyed me. I wanted five or six more birdies so I could shoot in the fifties.”
And then she takes a breath. “It’s a big challenge this year. I don’t set myself goals. I just take one shot at a time, try to hit the shot as well as I can, commit to it. That leads to a good hole, a good score, maybe wins you the tournament and then gets you up the world rankings. I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself by target setting.”
Here she is up against a host of young women who have learnt the trick of winning while growing up. The remarkable Kiwi by way of South Korea, Lydia Ko, reached world No 1 at 17. America’s Lexi Thompson was a major winner at 19. Both play on the LPGA Tour in the United States, a much bigger stage which accelerates the learning curve.
Thompson is a role model in more ways than one, having posed semi-naked with a towel covering her modesty on the front of Golf Digest. She has also appeared in the Sports Illustrated Body Issue. But, as Hull notes, the golf comes first.
“Lexi has earned the right to do that. She has won a major. She has a great figure, she’s an athlete, one of the most athletic women on tour.
“She is really good for the game, she looks good on the golf course, and I think younger girls like that. They see that it is not an old man’s game. But she has staged herself first and foremost as a golfer. The important message is she’s a brilliant golfer. And that’s how I approach it. I want to be known for my golf.”
Golf is a game that requires constant vigilance lest the swing falters and the scores climb. Hull has one professional victory and, after a top 10 at the Women’s Scottish Open last week, is closing on that second. Maybe this is the week it all comes together. If it is not to be it won’t be for a lack of effort.
“I can get better at every aspect, sharpen everything up. I still have a lot to learn,” she said.
Five to watch at Turnberry: Leading contenders for Open glory
Having lost world No 1 spot to Inbee Park, the 18-year-old is under a different kind of scrutiny. Can the prodigy bounce back? Teenagers, eh?
Yesterday’s Ko. Hard to believe that Wie is only 25 years old with a decade behind her as a pro. Still the first name in women’s golf.
Highest-ranking American golfer at world No 3. Won this event at St Andrews two years ago when her clubs did not turn up.
The Jordan Spieth of the women’s game, ie a putting machine. Won her sixth major at the Women’s PGA championship last month.
The Rory McIlroy of the women’s game, ie hits it a mile. All American pin-up who won her first major last year while still a teenager.Reuse content