Even in 45mph winds, Hinako Shibuno will still be smiling at Troon

Defending AIG Women’s Open champion still capturing hearts of golf world

Japan's Hinako Shibuno celebrates her win last year at Woburn. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Japan's Hinako Shibuno celebrates her win last year at Woburn. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

They won’t have much to smile about if the wind gusts up to 45mph at Royal Troon later in the week. It will be a case of hold on tight and try to limit the damage in the first staging of the AIG Women’s Open on a course that can be tough enough on a calm day.

If there’s one player, though, who might still be capable of lighting up the Ayrshire venue in the teeth of a gale, then it is probably Japan’s Hinako Shibuno. She was dubbed the “Smiling Cinderella” as she captured the hearts of the golf world when winning at Woburn last year and has been beaming from ear to ear ever since.

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“I’ve always been conscious of keeping a smile on my face while I’m playing,” Shibuno, who holed a birdie putt on the last green just over 12 months ago to claim her maiden major by a shot from American Lizette Salas, told The Scotsman. “But, after winning the Women’s Open last year, it made me realise, once again, the importance of playing with a smile on my face.

“And this week, it’s going to be windy and there’s some rain to be expected and the course is going to play out very differently depending on the wind. I’m going to have to play smart. But, at the same time as defending champion, I’m going to enjoy, and also I want to show a new part of the game, some new part of my game this year.”

Shibuno became an overnight sensation back in Japan after joining Hisako Higuchi, the 1977 Women’s PGA champion, as the only Japanese players to win a major, with every magazine having her face adorned on it when Scotland arrived a few weeks later for the Rugby World Cup.

“Nothing tops my experience of winning the Women’s
Open and looking at myself on the magazines and the newspapers, it really felt unreal,” admitted the 21-year-old. “It didn’t feel like it was myself. But what was difficult about getting that attention was by winning the majors, I had set a higher expectation on myself and it was kind of difficult to cope with reality with the high expectations that I had set for myself.”

Shibuno, who declined the chance to become an LPGA Tour member after her victory, missed the cut in last week’s ASI Ladies Scottish Open in her first taste of links golf at The Renaissance Club. She is now bidding to become the first player to successfully defend the Women’s Open title since Yani Tseng in 2011.

“I do have that impression of the links course being very windy, experience various weathers in a day, but I’ve been fully preparing myself to play well over here,” she said, adding that the Postage Stamp “looks so much narrower than I had seen on TV”.

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