Golf legend Laura Davies recently summed up seventeen-year old Charley Hull’s prospects as a pro golfer with a single short sentence: “Charley has a very bright future.”
Although most American golf fans first met Charley Hull last summer when she trounced Paula Creamer in their singles match at the 2013 Solheim Cup, Hull’s been playing golf for just about as long as she’s been walking; and she’s been playing competitive golf and building her resume since she was nine, the year she won the UK National Ladies Championship at Turnberry.
Britain’s Tiny Tigress
In 2006, at the age of ten, Hull played with American Morgan Pressel at the British Open Pro-Am. Matt Slater, BBC Sport Golf Editor, characterized the four foot-nine inch prodigy as “Britain’s Tiny Tigress on the tee” and described her golf swing as “an act of graceful violence.” Annika Sorenstam complemented her putting. With her dad on the bag, Charley began claiming her space on the links.
From 2006 until she turned pro in January 2013 Charley Hull was consistently ranked among the top-10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Hull was a scratch golfer before she was twelve — Tiger didn’t achieve that level of proficiency until he was thirteen. Like Tiger, Charley was swinging a club at the age of two and some argue that her hand-eye coordination and complete, unshakable focus on her game surpasses Tiger’s today, despite the difference in their ages.
The 2013 Solheim Cup wasn’t Hull’s first golf competition on American soil. Two years earlier, in 2011, she played Florida’s Orange Blossom Tour, finished at 12th place in the Harder Hall Invitational and then runner-up in the South Atlantic Women’s Amateur Championship, and won the Jones-Doherty match-play championship to polish off her trip. Hull was fourteen and people were taking notice. She played a fearless, aggressive game and she was very, very good.
Hull polished off 2011 by winning the Welsh Ladies Open Stroke Play Championship and the English Women’s Stroke Play Championship while finishing runner-up in the English Ladies Amateur Championship.
Now a fifteen-year old amateur, Hull started 2012 by winning the Harder Hall Invitational a second time and was selected for the Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup team. She was also invited to play in her first LPGA major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and she competed in the 2012 Women’s British Open.
Stepping Onto the Big Stage
Charley Hull moved easily onto the big stage that is the LPGA. Meg Mallon and Beth Daniels showed her around the course and offered some tips on course management.
She admitted she had a case of pre-game jitters, but Charley Hull grew up on golf courses and she settled in and played her game, exploding off the first tee at the Kraft Nabisco with a birdie. She described her experience to GolfWeek with rather typical teenaged breathlessness and wonder:
“My first ever hole of my first ever major and that was my first ever pro tournament”
Charley Hull, On her opening at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship
Professional Golf is Where I Belong
Charley Hull’s transition from amateur to professional status was much less complicated than Lexi Thompson’s. Following her performances in 2012, first at the Kraft Nabisco, where she placed 38th, and then the British Masters, where she finished 18th, the Ladies European Tour extended a conditional card to her for the 2013 season. She signed no sponsor contracts. Unlike Lexi Thompson, she didn’t need them to access pro events. Her conditional LET card resolved that barrier, and her dad said there would be time for sponsor contracts and other business deals later. He wanted Charley to enjoy being a teenager.
Charley Hull had just celebrated her seventeenth birthday when she again exploded off the tee in her professional debut, reeling out five consecutive runner-up finishes at her first five pro events on the LET: the Laila Meryerm Cup, South African Women’s Open, Turkish Airlines Ladies Open, Deloitte Ladies Open, and UniCredit Ladies German Open.
Then Liselotte Neumann played a practice round with Hull at the 2013 Women’s British Open. Neumann, Team Europe captain for the 2013 Solheim Cup, was finalizing her four captain’s picks to fill out her team. She needed strength. The 2013 Cup would be played on American soil, at the Colorado Golf Club. The Americans, who had never lost the match-play event on home soil, wanted the Cup back. Neumann and the European team were determined to keep it.
Hull knew the round was an audition for one of Neumann’s captain’s picks and she conceded to feeling “a little bit of pressure” to perform. But perform, she did, well enough that Neumann picked her over several deeply experienced players to join the European team.
Hull’s win in her match with Paula Creamer was epic. The youngest person ever to play in the Solheim Cup, Hull contributed two points to the European win. One of those came in her 5 and 4 singles win over Creamer, a victory she followed up with a request for an autographed ball while she and Creamer were still on the fourteenth green. Creamer, the quintessential competitor and gracious in her losses as well as her wins, smiled when she signed the ball and handed it over.
Charley Hull finished her rookie year with a stunning record: fourteen events entered; twelve cuts made; eight top-10 finishes, six of them inside the top-five. She finished seventh on the LET Order of Merit with slightly more than €135 (US$185K). The awards rolled in: LET 2013 Rookie of the Year, Sports Journalist Association’s Best International Newcomer and the Peter Wilson Trophy at the SJA British Sports Awards.
Hull opened the 2014 season with other LET players at the New Zealand Women’s Open, and went on to play in the Volvik RACV Australian Masters and then the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. She’s skipping the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship in Haikou, China and she’ll play next at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Agadir, Morocco.
Laura Davies is staying in touch with Charley’s dad as they travel and as Hull claims her place in the world of professional golf. Liselotte Neumann, who immediately recognized that Charley Hull is “a very special girl” when they played that practice round together on the Old Course at St Andrews last summer, remains in complete agreement with Davies: Charley Hull has a very bright future stretching out before her.