You don’t always have to make the hands bleed to get better.
You don’t always have to make the hands bleed to get better.
On Sunday, 20-year-old Charley Hull, a fun-loving, free spirit from Kettering, won the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, from a ridiculously stellar field containing the very best in the women’s game. It is her first title on the LPGA Tour in her first full year on the premier women’s golf circuit. That victory has catapulted her 11 spots up the world rankings to No 18, one of only three Europeans in the top 20.
And to what does she owe her success? Why, strawberry mousse , of course!
But, fear not, Charley is not about to pile on the calories or those sort of pounds. It’s an aid to keeping her rhythm under the most severe pressure. She says the word “strawberry” to herself by which point she has reached the top of her backswing. then she swishes through to the brisker tempo of “mousse”. She explains: “Dad used to say it to me when I was about two years old to get my rhythm. It’s just a rhythm thing.”
In so many many ways Charley reminds me of another shining star of an English player and one of the best I ever played with – Dame Laura Davies. Both players love to give the ball a good tonk, are capable of the most sublime short game shots and both, on occasions, have battled a few putting demons. Oh, and yes, they like to play quickly, are refreshingly open and entertaining in their press conferences and have instinctively good golfing brains. Laura has forty-one years on tour under her belt with four majors and 79 worldwide wins to her name.
At the moment Charley has played four years on tour and has two wins, but so many of the qualities she shares with Laura are key to an enduring career. Most impressive to me is her increasing ability to manage her time between shots and not let the situation or pressure get to her. During the heat of competition you’ll often see her gazing into the distance, seemingly daydreaming and unaware of what’s going on. Don’t be fooled! She’s perfected a way to switch on and off, citing thoughts of her non golfing pals back at home and what they’re up to as to what keeps her relaxed and loose on the course. Casual though she may seem, she’s a hard worker and always willing to observe others and give something a go. She realised a few weeks ago that ShanShan Feng, the Chinese trailblazer, didn’t look at scoreboards, so, as an inveterate scoreboard watcher, she decided to give that a go last week. “I’ve proved to myself I don’t need to look at leaderboards.” It’s all designed to help her stay in the moment because as she admits, “I used to get too engrossed in my score.”
Earlier in the year I interviewed world number one, Lydia Ko, after the third round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Charming and relaxed and as engaging as ever it was almost inconceivable to me that I’d watched her double bogey the last only five minutes previously. I asked her about her remarkable good humour and she shrugged, told me her first tee shot was “off the planet”, in other words out of bounds, and that “once I have chocolate everything’s all right!” There was a detachment there, a separation between the person’s golf score and the person. Charley is the same. Neither she nor Lydia allows their golf or the score to define them as people – easy to say, but very difficult to do for a lot of sports people.
Asked at her winner’s press conference on Sunday about her first four years on tour, this was Charley’s response: “It’s been a great four years. I just love playing golf.” When pressed to express hopes of being mentioned in the same breath as the other young global stars in the game – Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Ariya Jutanagarn – she responded, “I’m not really too bothered what people are saying. I’m just here to have fun and play golf.”
She may have a novel use for strawberry mousse but this young Englishwoman is nobody’s fool.
You know, I can understand why Lee Westwood was annoyed that he had to abort his trip to the World Cup in Australia because there is no better place in the world to play golf than Melbourne. It’s right up there with St Andrews, Pinehurst, Portstewart/Portrush/Castlerock and, I hear, Bandon Dunes because everywhere you look there are fabulous, playable courses that set you twitching at your swing fixes, polishing your shoes and raving about your experience for ever and ever.
Here’s what Dai, my late husband, wrote about Melbourne’s Sand Belt – “probably the finest collection of courses in any city in the World” – in our book Beyond The Fairways: “As far as golf goes, Australia in general and Melbourne in particular has courses of a quality that cannot be beaten anywhere.
“Royal Melbourne is the jewel among them but it almost beggars belief that there could be so many others, so near, that would themselves be outstanding in another place. Kingston Heath, for example, is superb and so too are Yarra Yarra, Commonwealth and the Metropolitan Club. There is also Victoria…..a course sufficiently challenging to have produced Peter Thomson and Doug Bachli. They have a unique achievement to their credit, for in 1954 Thomson won the Open and Bachli the Amateur championship……
“If Royal Melbourne did not exist, Kingston Heath [where the World Cup is being played] would probably be the celebrated Australian course…..the bunkers at both courses are the work of Alister MacKenzie [sometimes spelled Mackenzie but that’s a debate for another day]. Accuracy is all at the Heath. Miss a green and a fearsome shot is certain to result, either out of sand (preferably) or from scrubby bushes in which the lie varies only from difficult to impossible. Thomson has said that the second shot, the shot to the green, is ‘the art of the game’ and nowhere is it more necessary to be the complete artist than at Kingston Heath.”
A pilgrimage to the Sand Belt should be on any self-respecting golfer’s bucket list. Start plotting, planning and saving now. No moaning and groaning that “It’s soooo far.” It’s soooo good, you’ve got to go. And the most sublime courses are soooo close together when you get there!
Nearly 20 years ago, in 1997, a fresh-faced Westwood had one of his greatest triumphs when he won the Australian Open at Metropolitan. Not only did he defeat Greg Norman, then the world No 1 and vastly more experienced, he held off the great Aussie hero in a sudden death play-off that lasted four holes. Huge crowds lined the fairways, most of them supporting Norman and no one who was there doubted that Westwood would win a major or two. That hasn’t happened yet but he’s had a very successful career, is only 43 now and I suppose there’s still time.
Finally, two of Europe’s best and most enduring golfers won their first professional title down under: Annika Sorenstam started her run to fame with victory in the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide in 1994 and two years later Catriona Matthew won the title at Yarra Yarra. Magical things happen in Oz.
Oh, and if Westwood has a problem with Chris Wood (who chose Andy Sullivan to make up the England team at the World Cup), surely he’s looking at the wrong person. Wasn’t it Danny Willett who pulled out and left the pal he’d picked in the lurch?