EXPERIENCE and patience are not normally associated with teenage amateurs. But, on a day when Royal Liverpool Golf Club required both qualities, England’s Charley Hull and New Zealand’s Lydia Ko easily passed the test.
With only 11 players finishing under par, South Koreans Haeji Kang and So Yon Ryu led the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the final major of the season, on two-under-par 70. Hull was in the next group on 71 and Ko posted a 72.
Hull, the Woburn 16-year-old, helped Great Britain and Ireland win the Curtis Cup at Nairn in June and she has already proved she is not overawed by the professional stage. She finished fifth at this season’s Turkish Open, in the top 20 at both the Irish Open and British Masters, and she also opened with a nerve conquering 71 at another major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She went on to tie for 38th in the California event.
Unbeknown to Hull, her day started with a bit of a scare. Her caddie – she only knows him as Mark – had his motorbike stolen overnight from outside his Liverpool hotel. He had to hail a taxi and the £30 journey just got him to the course in the nick of time for the 7.40 start. Sensibly, Hull’s father, Dave, instructed him to keep schtum until after the round.
There were not too many problems for the pair during 18 holes played in breezy conditions, but weather that was perfectly acceptable for mid-September.
Hull birdied the second and fifth from inside ten feet and her only bogey came at the eighth, where she hit her second through the green.
Home schooled, she has already decided to enter this year’s Ladies’ European Tour qualifying school. “If I’m successful, then I’ll turn professional,” she said.
Before then, she has the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey and a few school exams to complete. “I couldn’t sit them at normal time due to the Curtis Cup, but I’ve been getting 92 and 95 per cent for my assignments so I’m doing OK,” she said.
Ko is a year younger at 15 but, staggeringly, she has even more impressive credentials. The US Women’s Open Amateur Champion, she beat the professionals to become the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour at the Canadian Open last month.
Born in South Korea, the family moved to New Zealand when she was very young and she is now ranked the No 1 amateur in the world. Naturally, expectations are high, but Ko manages to keep her feet firmly planted. “Yeah, everyone is expecting big things from me, but I don’t take much interest. I’m not going to play well because other people think I should,” she insisted.
“I just play my own game. Today, shooting par was a pretty good start. I could have had a few more birdies but, hopefully, I’m saving them up for tomorrow.”
The two Scots in the field – Catriona Matthew and Carly Booth – will also be hoping for a few more sub par holes today. Unfortunately, they both failed to make much of an impression.
Starting at the par-five tenth, Matthew, the 2009 champion, opened with a birdie at 7.10 in the morning. But the round started to unravel with bogeys at the 17th and 18th and a double-bogey seven at the fifth really spoiled the day. She lost a ball in a bush.
“I didn’t hole any putts and that one hole really hurt,” said the Scottish No 1. “Hopefully it will be better tomorrow.”
Booth, a two-time winner on the LET this season, heads the European Order of Merit. But she will do well to make the cut in her first major after an opening 77.
Even worse news for those who suffered a battering in the relatively benign conditions was today’s forecast for 50mph plus winds.
Considering Kang’s and Ryu’s score was the highest for a first day leader since the championship achieved major status in 2001, it could be that something over par is good enough to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Yani Tseng, the winner on 16 under par at Carnoustie last year, stayed well in the hunt with a neat 72.
It’s a score that keeps her firmly on course for a record-breaking third win in a row. Also among the leading lights on 71 were Australia’s three-time winner, Karrie Webb and the 2008 champion, Jiyai Shin, while another two English amateur, Holly Clyburn (72) and Alexandra Peters (73) similarly did themselves proud.
Wales’ Lydia Hall, winner of the British Masters at the Buckinghamshire last month, joined Hull as the leading British players on 71.
“My home course for about seven years was Royal Porthcawl and now I’m attached to Southerndown and they’re both links with 50mph winds so this suits me fine,” she said. “It’s really nice to be playing here.”