British No.1 Charley Hull will be hoping to give the home crowd something to cheer about this week when the Ricoh Women’s British Open gets under way for the fifth time at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club.
When Dame Laura Davies was asked for her tips for the championship, Hull was one of the first players the four-time Major Champion named to leave with the trophy. Fellow Briton Davies is still one of the biggest draws in women’s golf and has a lot of admirers, including Hull herself, who commented: “That’s pretty cool for Laura to pick me, because she has always been my idol. But I enjoy playing links golf. I think the Scottish Open last week helped me get back into links play, because it’s been a year since I played it.”
The Northamptonshire golfer has fond memories of playing in the Ricoh Women’s British Open Pro-Am in 2006, at just 10 years old. She had earned her place after winning the Health Perception British Masters, a national competition, at the age of nine. “I have good memories, because last time I played here in the Pro-Am was with Morgan Pressel,” she said. Pressel clearly spotted Hull’s potential even at such a young age as she decided to start training her for life on tour. “I remember Morgan Pressel telling me to acknowledge the crowd, say thank you and tip my cap and wave at them.”
This time round she will be competing for a slightly larger prize: a Major championship, worth US$490,000, or approximately £374,000.
The World No.27 has come close to winning her maiden major championship on several occasions but fallen just short. Hull is in a positive mood ahead of the championship, citing a mentality change that comes with experience as the reason she feels close to Major success.
“Maturing: I just take a bit more time reading my putts and stuff and just concentrate. And off the course as well, and I just feel really focused.”
The psychological side of her game was a key theme of the 22-year-old’s Wednesday press conference. When asked if making the step up to becoming a major champion was down to technical improvements or an alteration in approach, Hull responded. “Well, kind of a mental thing. I think coming like Top 10 in the majors so far this year gives you a bit of insight, if you know what I mean. And now I just need to finish it. Because if you look back to the women’s PGA championship like a month ago, I was really pushing it back and really going for it. I was within one or two of the lead with a few holes to go, and I made two stupid breakers coming in.”
“It was playing tricky, but just little swings and shots like that, especially like the first few rounds as well, like a little putt there or here and there from a little bit of concentration, and I just need to think in my head every little shot counts.”
When it comes to the technical side of her game, Hull believes an improvement in her putting would yield positive results. “I do hit a lot of greens during my rounds. If I holed more putts I would win.”
While she agrees that putting and the short game is crucial, Hull emphasises the importance of quality shots off the tee box this week. “I do actually think the driver as well and your tee shots. You have to be good because you have to get the ball in play to get on the green.”
For all the British golfers, the Ricoh Women’s British Open is the one they have always dreamed of winning. “It’s a little bit of pressure because it’s like your home championship”, although this is not something that fazes the 2013 Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year. “I really like the feeling of the pressure, though, with the last few holes. I don’t know, it just gives you different feelings. Like you hit it a lot further. And I don’t know, I just like it.”
The influence of pressure could be one of the many factors that affect how Hull approaches the golf course this week, although her game plan is not set in stone. “My caddie today was giving me a few options, and I was like, listen, when we get to the tee box on the day and see where the wind is coming from, then I’ll make my decision how I’m feeling and how I’m playing.” However, as with most players, there is one element of the course the Solheim Cup player is hoping to avoid. “Just try and keep it out of the bunkers. There is a lot of bunkers around. Like laying up, you’ve got to keep the bunkers out of play, so it’s whatever I feel comfortable with in the day.”
Hull, who at 16 was already 3rd in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, is optimistic about her chances this week. “I’ve been enjoying my golf and enjoying practicing, and my head is pretty focused at the moment.” The team she has surrounded herself with have been a key part of this. “I’ve got good people around me that are like making me concentrate, and I think it’s good.” She has no concerns about the wrist injury that has been a worry for the past few months either. “My wrist is fine. I haven’t felt it at all, so it’s good. It’s back to normal.”
Hull is guaranteed to attract a crowd this week, as, while it is a field full of the very best female golfers in the world, the British player is the idol of many of the young girls who have come to watch the championship. “I think it is great, because they are the next generation. With me, when I was younger, I looked up to a lot of players and they inspired me, so without them I wouldn’t have been here, and I just think it’s great. It’s an honour.”
Charley Hull will be hoping to give her legions of young fans yet another reason to dream of following in the English star’s footsteps as she tees off alongside Eri Okayama and the defending champion IK Kim at 12:16 tomorrow, aiming to end her wait for one of golf’s biggest prizes.