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Charley Hull takes on LPGA with veteran’s game but teen’s spirit

LANCASTER, Pa. – Charley Hull ambled down the fairway at hilly Lancaster Country Club, looking as though she had not a care in the world. The 19-year-old Brit, playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open, played the back nine of a practice round solo on Wednesday, her father Dave keeping her company.

This is a laid-back crew. Even her bagman, Gary Wildman, is a white-collar businessman who stumbled into the caddie ranks three years ago. Wildman began working with Hull at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship, in which she finished seventh. Dave said they didn’t want a veteran looper, someone who might try to tell Charley how to play.

“All he does is get the distance,” Dave said.

That leaves Charley free to be herself. And that’s exactly what’s so refreshing about the English star.

“She’s innocent, you see,” her father said. “It’s lovely.”

After falling short at LPGA Q-School in December, Hull tied for seventh at the Handa Australian Open and finished T-26th at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major championship. Those two starts put her in prime position for the LPGA’s reshuffle on May 4. Hull jumped from Category 17 to Category 8 on the LPGA status list. She began the year No. 177 on the tour’s priority list and in five starts jumped to 98th. She’s currently 61st on the LPGA money list and 10th on the LET’s Order of Merit and now can compete wherever she chooses.

In December, Hull left her longtime instructor Lee Scarborough for Matt Belsham, who works with former Ryder Cupper Jamie Donaldson. Hull has a good understanding of her golf swing and said she feels more compact.

“I learned a lot of shots, she said, “and now I’ve got loads of shots to pick from, and I don’t know what to hit.”

She laughed, with the ease of a player who is competing with house money.

Hull jumped onto the national scene at age 9 when she won the Ladies Amateur Championship of Great Britain and Ireland, a Stableford event held at Turnberry, site of this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.

“I don’t remember much,” Hul said. “I had to go out in playoff, and I didn’t want to go out because I was playing Harry Potter on my Nintendo.”

Hull beat a player five times her age that day. She’s been playing up ever since, capturing the attention of U.S. fans as a 17-year-old rookie on the European Solheim Cup team two years ago.

After Hull sent Paula Creamer packing with a 5-and-4 victory in singles, she famously asked Creamer for an autograph after the match. The signed ball was for her childhood mate James Northern.

Hull’s biggest splurge since turning pro was buying Northern a membership to her club in England, Woburn Golf and Country Club. That, along with a couple of handbags and drinks for friends on a night out, is about as lavish as it gets for Hull.

“Charley says, ‘As long as I have enough (money) for the next tournament, that’s enough,’ ” Dave Hull said.

She’s a simple teen, one who already has learned the importance of a balanced life with no regrets.

“Last season I was playing really well, and suddenly I didn’t want to go out with my friends at the weekend,” she said. “I just wanted to stay in and practice every day. My golf went downhill because of it, and I almost made myself ill.

“I was just focusing too much on golf. That was a big learning curve for me.”

It was her father who suggested that she take a vacation to the Spanish island of Ibiza after the Women’s British Open. Hull and her friend Joely will head to the popular Mediterranean getaway after Hull finishes a quick practice session in Germany with potential Solheim Cup teammates.

“She wanted to fly out on Tuesday,” Hull said of her friend, “but I wanted to get a spray tan on Wednesday morning.”

Important priorities in the life of any girl her age.

There is one area, however, in which Hull lags: She has yet to obtain a driver’s license.

“It’s annoying,” she said. “I’m sponsored by BMW, the car, but I can’t drive it yet.”

Just another charming quip from Hull. While so many of today’s hotshots come to the pro ranks already polished, with tired phrases and a maturity that’s downright startling, Hull seems nothing but real. Uncut, uncensored and all natural.

Hull was leading the tournament in the second round at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship when she fell apart on the last few holes. Her friend Northern took a video of her duff on the 18th hole and voiced it over.

“He put it on Facebook to embarrass me,” she said, smiling. “I always wind him up.”

Credit Dave Hull, a logical man who is warm and friendly, for letting Charley be Charley.

When asked if his powerful daughter had a trainer, Dave, 63, shook his head.

“She’s not stopped growing yet,” he said. “All Charley does is stretching exercises. She can do that when she’s older.”

And that’s always been the theme with Hull. They plan for the future but learn as they go. There’s no rush here.

“You’re only young once,” Hull said. “Hopefully I’ve got another 20-30 years of playing golf.”

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