England's Hull logs comeback win at Harder Hall
SEBRING, Fla. - Charley Hull is a mess of wavy, white-blond hair when she hits a golf ball. The swing is surprisingly aggressive in tempo for a 15-year-old who could pass for 12.
Hull won the Harder Hall Women's Invitational on Saturday for her second career title on the Florida Orange Blossom Circuit. She shot a final-round 69 at Harder Hall Country Club and finished at 6-under 282. Hull, who plays out of Woburn Golf Club in England, didn’t come with quite the shock factor at this year’s winter amateur circuit. She was runner-up at last year’s South Atlantic Amateur, then won the next event, the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Amateur.
57th Harder Hall Women's Invitational
View images of the final round of the 57th Harder Hall Women's Invitational at Harder Hall Country Club in Sebring, Fla.
This year, the affable blonde seemed more comfortable in front of a crowd, making fun of her own English accent and flubbed pronunciation of the course superintendent’s surname during her post-round speech. She calls herself a different player than a year ago.
“I concentrate more,” she said. “I’ve gained more experience. I understand the game more.”
The Harder Hall is known for its somewhat unpredictable weather, and it’s not uncommon for temperatures to dip into the 30s and 40s throughout the tournament’s four rounds. Even though Saturday’s final round couldn’t have been more pleasant, Hull’s competitors seemed to lose steam down the stretch. She began the day trailing Ariya Jutanugarn by two shots, but ended up winning by two as Jutanugarn followed a third-round 67 with a final-round 73 to finish at 4 under.
“I kind of like (coming from behind) because I sort of play more, not aggressive, but on the back nine I play better,” Hull said. “I think I was three behind when I won the English (Amateur Stroke Play), and I won it by four. It proves a pretty good point.”
Hull turned in even-par 36 and was tied with Jutanugarn heading to the back nine. Hull dropped a 25-footer at No. 12 for an improbable par after being plugged in a bunker.
“I was happy I got it out,” Hull said.
Hull nearly made birdie at 13, and birdies at the next two holes gave her a two-shot lead on Jutanugarn. Hull joins an impressive list of past champions at the Harder Hall.
“I’m just honored," she said.
With the win, she also earns a spot in the field at the Symetra Tour's season-opening Florida's Natural Charity Classic, to be played March 23-25 at Lake Region Yacht and Country Club in Winter Haven, Fla.
After last year’s Orange Blossom Circuit, Hull didn’t appear stateside again until the Spirit International Amateur in November, an international team competition played at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas. She and compatriot Lauren Taylor tied for fifth in the women’s division.
This year, Hull hopes to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Women’s Amateur. It’s a Curtis Cup year, and Hull is keeping her fingers crossed for a spot on that team. The Great Britain and Ireland squad would be lucky to have her.
Hull is home-schooled, but says she is in her senior year. She quickly turns up her nose when asked about college, so it seems there’s lots of golf in her immediate future.
The same can be said for Ariya, 16, and her older sister Moriya, 17, though their plans for the future - college or the pros - remain a mystery. The sisters from Bangkok, Thailand, are playing the Orange Blossom Circuit for the first time this year after older half-brother Sussmon Jutanukal, who helps them assemble their summer tournament schedule, found the tournaments online. Moriya finished runner-up at the Dixie Women’s Amateur last weekend, and they’ll both play next week’s South Atlantic Amateur in Ormond Beach.
Playing together in the final group, the Jutanugarns were nearly identical in talent and appearance. Note that Ariya is a little taller, Moriya is a little longer off the tee. Moriya could have been a factor at the end of the round but for a double bogey at the par-3 16th. She eagled No. 17 and birdied No. 18 to finish third, one shot behind her sister.
“I finished strong today. I’m really happy with the last two holes,” she said. “I just found my swing.”
The Jutanugarns barely spent any time at home over the holidays, returning to Bangkok after the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic for just a bit of rest before starting the new year in Florida. Both hope to play in the LPGA Thailand this spring and also hope for another sponsor exemption into the LPGA’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
So when do the Jutanugarns find a permanent landing spot in the U.S.? That question is met only with sheepish grins. Thailand still is their home.