Seventeen-year old Charley Hull‘s been on the hunt for her first pro victory for fifteen long months, since she turned pro last January. Along the way she’s compiled an impressive resume — 14 events entered in 2013, her rookie year, 12 cuts made, six top-5 finishes, an additional two top-10 finishes. She came close to her first win four agonizing times, she played fearless, near-heroic golf at the 2013 Solheim Cup, soundly defeating Paula Creamer, one of the toughest competitors on the LPGA Tour, and she ended the season with the 2013 LET Rookie of the Year award in her pocket, as well as a respectable amount of money. But she was winless, and that’s the way she started the 2014 season. She finished the New Zealand Women’s Open in a tie for 11th place and the Volvik RACV Masters with a solo 10th, then missed the cut at the Women’s Aussie Open and went home for a two-week break before teeing off in Morocco, where she lost last year to another teenager, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn.
Hull’s Birthday Victory
It looked for a while as though the 2013 Lalla Meryem was going to play out as a rematch between Jutanugarn and Hull, and it also looked as though Jutanugarn might again outplay Hull, but not by much. Then they both dropped down the board and French players Gwladys Nocera and Sophie Giquel-Bettan pulled up to control the board going into the final round. That didn’t last.
Today, starting in the 4th slot on the board, Hull pulled that fearless, aggressive game American fans first saw in play last August in Parker, Colorado out of her bag. She had some work to do. Nocera had started the final round with a two-shot edge over Giquel-Bettan, who in turn had a two-shot edge over Ariya Jutanugarn, and Charley Hull was stuck in a pack of five players who seemed an impossible five shots off the lead. That didn’t last either!
With her dad, Dave Hull, her first coach and sometimes caddie, behind the ropes, a week before her 18th birthday Charley Hull played her heart out, shot a flawless, breathtaking, career-low 62, tied it up and took down 12-time winner Gwladys Nocera in the first playoff hole with a four foot birdie putt. Of that putt, Hull said:
. . . my hands were shaking like mad and I had a putt from four feet in the Solheim down the last against Paula [Creamer] and Lexi [Thompson]. I had the same there to win and I did it and I feel like I’m a good putter under pressure now.
Gwladys Nocera played superb golf at the Club de l’Ocean. She carded four consistent rounds of 69, 68, 65, and 67, and she looked to the end good for the victory. In the last four holes, Hull’s putts dropped and Nocera’s didn’t.
Nocera was graceful and gracious in her playoff loss:
My putting has been really bad the whole week so you can’t do anything when you putt like that. I tried my best; Charley played well today and she deserves it. She’s been close to victory for a while and she’s a great player so she deserves it. I had to play better and I didn’t.
Golf legends Laura Davies and Trish Johnson finished sharing 8th place, adding to the English dominance of the top of the leaderboard.
Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn, also a rising teen star on the pro golf stage, is playing her way back from a mid-season shoulder injury last year. Even with only a half-season of play in 2013, Jutanugarn’s ranked 19th on the LET. She’ll be back to challenge Charley Hull.
Hull and Jutanugarn are most likely to meet next in May, at the Turkish Ladies Open, May 8-11, and the Deloitte Ladies Open, May 23-25. Mark your calendars!