Hinako Shibuno provided one of the year's great storylines as she captured both the Women's British Open and the hearts of all those watching her
All major wins have unique storylines but this one seemed to take on a life of its own.
A week ago hardly anyone knew of Hinako Shibuno. She had yet to play in a major, she had yet to play in an LPGA event, and this was her first time playing outside of her native Japan – a year ago the 20-year-old was playing on the Step-Up Tour, a developmental tour at home – and, as of Sunday, she didn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
Now Shibuno is a major winner, having signed off a spectacular year in the sport’s biggest weeks in both the men’s and women’s games, with an effort that matched the lot of them.
While the American men dominated 2019 with three victories, their women went without for the first time since 2012. Shibuno’s victory gave Japan its first winner for 42 years and just their second in total.
Speaking through a translator she explained earlier in the week that she had passed the professional golfer’s test in Japan only last year, an experience that makes you “want to vomit”.
Having rolled in the winning putt, a putt that might have showed less nerves than any other major-winning putt, she repeated that all that she wanted to do was throw up. Which, given the amount of sweets she had wolfed down over the course of the round, might not have been that unlikely.
— AIG Women’s British Open (@AIGWBO) August 4, 2019
All the evidence on the course pointed to someone having the time of their lives which, of course, she was. The week was spent high-fiving anyone within reach. Even walking to the 72nd tee, which generally would be a scene of inner turmoil with maybe a perfunctory look up and plenty of nasal breathing, Shibuno didn’t miss anyone off.
Her nickname is ‘Smiling Cinderella’ and the smiles soon turned to hysterics in the middle of the 18th fairway as she and her caddie-slash-coach discussed the shot in hand.
She would later reveal what she said: “If I shank this it will be really embarrassing.”
There was a short delay as a greenside bunker needed to be raked, there were a whole load of camera crews right behind her but, from 163 yards, she was as free as she had been all week.
She found the middle of the green before letting rip with the putt. It completed a back nine of just 31 to go with halves of 30 on Thursday and Saturday.
“I was looking at the board all the time and I knew my position. I was also thinking how I would celebrate.”
The answer of which was to “eat a lot of sweets”.
But there was another equally as entertaining sub-plot in the shape, or rather appearance, of her manager. Hiroshi Shigematsu spent the week dressed up in a variety of fancy-dress outfits to help keep his player relaxed.
On Thursday he went for a Mount Fuji work of art on his head, on Friday he was relatively low key with a Japanese flag on his cheek before saving his best for the weekend.
His Saturday ensemble was spectacular with the old, standard combo of black kimono and blue afro wig, accessorised with a plastic samurai sword. The locals will likely never see anything like it again.
Before keeping a low profile on Sunday with this…
— Ron Sirak (@ronsirak) August 4, 2019
“It makes her smile. It relaxes her,” was his version of events.
In her winner’s press conference she had the last laugh, or not, by singling out her manager.
“I can tell you who doesn’t make me laugh – that man over there waving his mask.”
Many great players go their whole careers without ever winning a major. Many current greats will be wondering when, or if, their next major will ever happen. Look at Rory McIlroy who has to go back to the PGA Championship in 2014, a period when he seemed to have the world at his feet.
Or Lydia Ko, who missed the cut here at Woburn by a street, and who has to go back to the 2016 ANA Inspiration for her last success. She is now outside the world’s top 20.
Few, if any, will have enjoyed their first major more than Shibuno. She arrived in England thinking that the Women’s British Open was always played on a links. The sight of the tree-lined Marquess reminded her of home and relaxed her a little.
Not that the nerves weren’t still there, even with the trophy sitting next to her.
“I am very, very happy. But maybe a little nauseous, too.”