Pressure? Women's British Open win a walk in the park for England's Georgia Hall
LYTHAM, England -- On Sunday, all along this famous stretch of the English coast, dads and their daughters fulfilled a very British tradition: feet in the sand, quick spin on a roller coaster, and fingers crossed that the trip to the arcade ended with a prize.
But some family summer strolls by the seaside are better than others. For 22-year-old Georgia Hall, with her dad, Wayne, on the bag, it was as good as it could possibly be. She saw some bunkers, she endured the ride and, at the end of the day, her prize was the one she has dreamed of all her life: victory in the 2018 Ricoh Women's British Open.
In claiming the victory by 2 shots over Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum at Royal Lytham & St Annes, there were echoes of Tony Jacklin's iconic Open Championship success in 1969, a first British win in that tournament for 18 years. In this tournament, the home nation's win drought was just nine years -- Scotland's Catriona Matthew won it in 2009 -- but the gap has hurt every bit as much as it did to the men more than five decades ago.
For too long women's golf in Britain has relied on the strong shoulders of Laura Davies and Matthew. Two, maybe three, generations have failed to compete at the highest level. Hall has transformed that in becoming only the fifth British winner of a women's major championship. She is only the second player from England -- Karen Stupples in 2004 is the other -- to win the Women's British Open.
It was a remarkably poised and self-assured performance. She dropped only 3 shots all week, she was flawless in the final round (until victory was assured), and she became only the second winner of this event since it became a major championship in 2001 to card four rounds in the 60s.
But enough of numbers. This was an achievement conducted with a calm authority that belied the fact that she had, to this point in her brief career, never before won on the LPGA or Ladies European Tour.
On this final day her long game peaked. She missed only one green in regulation and when she did, her recovery skills were up to the examination just as they had been throughout the week: in all she completed 16 of 18 scrambles for par. Her chipping was smart, her putting was too, and her brain was even smarter, for this is a player who uses her gray matter. She asks questions, she listens, and she learns.
Two weeks ago she met Tom Lehman, Open champion on this course in 1996, and she quizzed him on strategy. He advised missing the fairway bunkers and she heeded the advice all week.
"I only found one fairway bunker," Hall said. "It was on the second yesterday and I was furious with myself. I'm really proud that I stuck to the policy. Tom texted me last night to remind me one last time. I was also 7-for-7 with sand saves, so I dealt with Lytham's big danger pretty well."
She was not alone in channeling the Lytham legends this week. Her two closest pursuers were also playing in the shadow of greatness.
After assuming solo third through 54 holes, So Yeon Ryu revealed that she had been inspired by stories of Seve Ballesteros' sand saves in 1979 and 1988. The third-round leader, Phatlum, settled in behind her oversized aviator sunglasses in much the same style David Duval did with his wraparound shades in 2001, shielding herself from both the sun and the strain.
Phatlum would prove to be a sterling foe for Hall on the final day, but she was the only one as the pair gave the field little or no hope to the turn.
Their only challenger, in the loosest sense of the word, was Ryu, who had admitted Saturday that her playoff defeat in last month's KPMG PGA Championship had hurt and now redemption was in her sights, chasing two golfers without one official LPGA victory.
She was the deserved favorite and yet it all went horribly wrong at the third and fourth holes, where she hacked her way to triple bogey and bogey. She proved her class with a hat-trick of bounceback birdies, and added another four par breakers on the back nine, but it had been the same story in each of the final three rounds: she played the first to fourth in 7-over, the fifth to 18th in 17-under. She finished third, 4 shots back.
From the others, there was nothing until it was too late. Minjee Lee and Mamiko Higa failed to find a birdie between them on the front nine, while Sung Hyun Park needed 3 shots to escape a greenside bunker at the fourth and never recovered.
Sei Young Kim thrashed a 66 and 2016 champion Ariya Jutanugarn a 69 to land tied for fourth at 9-under 279 alongside Higa, but those were very minor roles on a day when the cast stood back and allowed the two leading ladies to have the stage to themselves.
They traded blows in thrilling style from the get-go. Hall ticked the first, Phatlum the second and the fifth, both made birdie at the fourth and sixth. They were clear of the chasers and only a double disaster could prevent one or other claiming the title.
Either side of the turn, they fought to keep bogeys off the card. Hall succeeded, Phatlum erred at the eighth, her drive finding the only thick and tangled grass anyone has seen in the five weeks of links golf on the European and Ladies European Tour.
With the famous Lytham clubhouse in their sights, Hall made her move: a 15-foot birdie at the 13th to tie the lead, a calm two-putt birdie to answer Phatlum's up-and-down for the same score at the par-5 15th and the crucial blow at the 16th, a 20-foot birdie that earned her the lead for the first time in the week.
At the 17th, Hall's long birdie attempt stopped on the edge, but it was no matter because Phatlum, for so long an indefatigable opponent, finally blinked with a 3-putt for double-bogey. Suddenly Hall could afford a bogey of her own down the last and she used it.
As she walked up the 18th fairway she and her father chatted, but there was no time for the fun and games other families were enjoying this Sunday afternoon. "I just kept asking him if I really had a three-shot lead," she said.
Had her performance been as nerveless as it appeared from outside the ropes?
"I think it was," Hall confirmed. "I was more nervous yesterday, so I think I got [the nerves] out of the system. I was fine today until the final hole."
Her father confirmed that her ability to withstand those wobbles in the third round were key. "She could easily have played the front nine on Saturday in 6-over, but instead she was 8 shots better than that," Wayne Hall said. "She won it right there."
This is no story of country club coziness. She thanked her mum and dad in the trophy ceremony for "everything they did for me growing up." There were times when they drove the length of England for an hour-and-a-half putting lesson, but unlike many in this sport, they could not afford the regular transatlantic travel opportunities.
"I think I missed three major championship starts when I was an amateur," Hall said. "It was motivational and it was frustrating but I used to say to myself that my golf would get me there in the end."
On this day, she proved herself right. The determined girl is now a champion golfer.