HOYLAKE, England – It’s hard to believe Charley Hull is only 16. She plays like a 26-year-old and seems to have the patience of a 46-year-old.
The precocious teenager made a serious bid to become the first amateur since Catherine Lacoste to win a major championship with a 1-under 71 in the opening round of the $2.5 million Ricoh Women’s Open at Royal Liverpool on Thursday. Hull is in joint third place along with eight other players, one shot behind first-round leaders Haeji Kang and So Yeon Ryu of Korea.
She is one shot ahead of New Zealand’s Lydia Ko. The leading player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking returned a level-par 72. Already a winner of two professional tournaments this year – the New South Wales Open and Canadian Open – Ko is also a serious contender for this title.
However, on this day it was the English amateur who got the upper hand. Hull had two birdies in her opening round and just the one dropped shot. She was nine shots better than veteran campaigner Sophie Gustafson, and eight shots up on eight-time major winner Juli Inkster. She might not have the same experience as that pair, but it sure looks like she does.
Hull is making her fifth start in a professional tournament this year. She has made the cut in the previous four, with a fifth-place finish in the Turkish Airlines Ladies Open her best result.
Currently World No. 8 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Hull made headlines earlier this year when she opened the Kraft Nabisco Championship with a 1-under 71. It was not only her first professional tournament, but her first major championship.
Hull drew on that experience in the opening round of the Women’s British. “I birdied the first hole at the Kraft and I was trying to do that today,” Hull said.
The English girl went on to finish T-38 in the Kraft. It was a valuable education in her young life.
“In the second round I got under pressure and started hitting it really hard. So in the third round I shot 4 under. I took one more club and swung about three-quarter speed. I did that today. I’m getting older and a little smarter.”
That last line drew ripples of laughter from the assembled media.
Hull is a member of Woburn Golf Club and counts Ian Poulter as one of her mentors. Poulter has a long association with the club and took Hull under his wing this year to impart valuable advice before she played in the Curtis Cup. Poulter told her to be “ruthless but respectful,” advising her to expect her opponents to do the unexpected and never let her guard down.
The advice paid off. Hull defeated Lindy Duncan 5 and 3 in the final singles’ session to help Great Britain & Ireland win the match for the first time since 1996. Given the way Hull has developed, she might soon be giving Poulter advice.
The teenager could certainly help the Englishman at times when he lets exasperation get the better of him. Hull has learned the value of golf’s ultimate cliché.
“I just play one shot at a time, one hole at a time and see what my score is at the end.”
As such, Hull isn’t getting ahead of herself. But that didn’t stop the inevitable “do you think you can win” question.
“It’s possible but I’m not thinking about that at the moment.”
Hull has never met Ko but has certainly heard of her. She is impressed by what the New Zealander has done, but she reminded everyone not to focus solely on her younger peer. “There’s a lot more to come from me,” Hull said.
Hopefully it will come in this tournament. Better still, hopefully both Ko and Hull will be in contention come Sunday. That would certainly brighten up the grey skies hanging over Hoylake.