Mark Townsend tees it up with the Women's British Open champion Georgia Hall ahead of her defence at Woburn
We all like to think we can spot an exceptional talent. Six years ago, as part of a golf day at Fulford, two of us teamed up with a teenager who was the current holder of the British Girls title – she had won the final against Spain’s Clara Baena 6&5 at Tenby.
Even to our untrained eyes she didn’t miss a shot. She wasn’t just arrow straight, she was long even then and her irons consistently took on the pins from seemingly any distance. When you watch some players it’s easy to imagine them spending a week around level par with a mix of good and bad bits. With Georgia Hall, all you could see was progress, both in her career and up the leaderboard.
The following year she landed the British Amateur, making a hole-in-one at the 17th in the final at Machynys against another Spaniard, Luna Sobron, to hold both the girls’ and ladies’ titles. No other player had managed this before.
Now Hall has the Women’s British Open in her ‘trophy cabinet’.
“I’ve kept the trophy under my bed as I’m away so much that I wanted it somewhere out the way, but I’m moving flat so I’ll put it in a glass cabinet. I’ve also got the 18th flag to frame when I get my place.”
There are plenty of stats to enjoy about Hall’s victory at Lytham but the one that shows just three bogeys over the four rounds sticks out.
The men’s champion at Lytham in 1996, Tom Lytham, advised her to stay short of the bunkers and take her chances from there while she also picked the brains of Ken Brown in practice.
The end product was a winning total of 17-under.
“I had never played Lytham before so experiencing all those bunkers was tough and it was hard to avoid all of them. There was a lot of course management needed. Even if you have a longer shot in it’s best to stay out of the bunkers, the greens aren’t too bad.”
Her first shot of the week, a 5-iron, finished 12 inches away.
“I definitely thought I could win a major. I had finished third the year before at Kingsbarns, which gave me a lot of confidence, and I love links golf, and I had a lot of family and home support which gave me extra motivation.”
Hall was never out of the top three all week and she came to the final round one adrift of Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum. While there were all the amateur successes, Hull had yet to win on the LET or LPGA Tours with her two professional triumphs coming on the Australian and Access tours.
“On the Sunday I wasn’t too bad. I had a late breakfast so I arrived a couple of hours early, had some lunch and chilled out. The morning went quite quickly.
“You don’t know how many times you’ll be one shot behind the leader so I thought I had to make the most of this opportunity as you don’t know if it will happen again. In my head I thought I had the advantage with all the home support.”
By her side was her dad, Wayne, who had been as low as a three-handicapper. By the time his daughter was 11, and a rapidly-decreasing five-handicapper, he was beaten for the first time.
“He helped me with club decisions, I did the short game and putting myself, and he kept me calm. He does a couple of tournaments a year but he always does the British and normally the Scottish. I can’t not have him on the bag this year!”
The final round was a thing of beauty. Phatlum had four birdies in her first six holes but had only extended her lead by one. Hall’s putter was smoking hot as a collection of 20 to 25-footers kept disappearing and another at the 16th put her into the lead for the first time.
With a Phatlum double-bogey at 17 and a three-shot lead, Britain had just its fifth major winner.
The speech was typical Hall; natural, funny and grounded.
“I haven’t made lots of speeches but I got emotional because the week before my grandad was told he didn’t have long to live so this would be the last tournament that he would see so I wanted to say something about him.”
With her new-found success, Hall wanted something to remember the win by so treated herself to a ring from Tiffany’s – “I felt bad that I had spent so much but finished second a few weeks later in Portland which made me feel better”– and there was another nice surprise when, as a first-time winner on the LPGA Tour, she was given a Rolex.
“I was having lunch with Catriona Matthew and we were chatting away. I had just got it so I had it in a sock as I didn’t have a case for it and I just walked out and left it on the table. Thankfully Catriona spotted it!”
Woburn, Marquess, 14th, 198 yards, 4-iron, birdie 2 – not every day you get to play with a major champ (and @MattCooperGolf).
— Mark Townsend (@MarkTownsendNCG) June 4, 2019
Six years on, the same three of us from Fulford are reunited at Woburn as part of the championship’s media day. In the interim two of us have put on weight, become greyer and achier while the group’s leading light hasn’t changed a bit, aside from now being a major champion.
The opening tee shot splits the fairway and so we begin again. Hall crunches it even further off the tee – she averages around 265 yards with the driver – but it is the irons which really stand out. And one in particular, where a 4-iron from the 14th tee on the Marquess Course, home again to this year’s Women’s British Open, nestled close to the hole from 198 yards.
A couple of putts slipped by but otherwise it was a very straightforward two or three-under effort in occasional sideways rain with maybe one missed fairway and two missed greens.
The chat is easy, there are plenty of giggles and the 23-year-old might be the most unassuming major winner on the planet. Two days after this round she was awarded the MBE, something she’d had to keep quiet about in the previous weeks.
“The Marquess is obviously very different to last year, it’s quite American with a lot of big greens and doglegs, and you’ve got to put the ball on the right part of the greens. It’s definitely a different British Open type of course.
“I’ve got family and friends coming to watch me so it will be a lot of fun. I’ve heard there are a few coach-loads coming from my boyfriend Harry’s club, Hindhead. Apparently it’s the whole ladies’ section, which is lovely but Harry will have a lot of chatting to do.”
In terms of preparation, on and off the course, it will be a case of managing her time with all that a major defence in your home country brings.
“You will have done all your preparation on your game before the week has started. I’ll maybe have two practice rounds before the week starts and find out what tees we’re playing off and try and remember more about the holes.
“I’ll try not to put too much pressure on myself. It will be a lot busier than last year, attention and media-wise, which is good so I’ll have to manage my time better for myself off the course.
“Knowing that you’ve got the confidence to hit that shot when it’s most needed is huge – everyone wants to win a major and only five players can do it every year so, having done that under pressure in my home country, I know that I can do it again.”