Hannah Darling shines on world stage after feeling Covid 'hurt'

It’s official. Hannah Darling is, indeed, a world-class performer, having arguably produced her finest effort to date on the biggest stage in the women’s amateur game.

Hannah Darling enjoyed a fantastic freshman year for University of South Carolina but is wary of burn out moving forward. Picture: University of South Carolina
Hannah Darling enjoyed a fantastic freshman year for University of South Carolina but is wary of burn out moving forward. Picture: University of South Carolina

Yes, the 19-year-old Broomieknowe player had already won two R&A titles, played in a brace of Curtis Cups and strutted her stuff on home soil in the 2019 Junior Solheim Cup at Gleneagles.

And let’s not forget the impact she made in her first year at the University of South Carolina on the US college circuit, chalking up five top-five finishes in 10 events - a freshman record.

But it was representing Scotland in last week’s Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in France that Darling delivered confirmation that she really can mix it with the best out there.

Her six-under-par 65 at Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, was the lowest round of the week in an event that was also played at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, home of the Lancome Trophy for more than 30 years on the European Tour.

Helped by that sparkling effort, Darling finished just one shot behind Rose Zhang, the world No 1 and leading amateur in the recent AIG Women’s Open, as the American shared top spot with two others in the individual standings.

Joining forces with Lorna McClymont and Chloe Goadby, Darling’s eye-catching endeavours also secured a best-ever seventh place for the Scots as 54 teams battled it out for the Espirito Santo Trophy on this occasion.

“Yeah, It was a good week,” admitted the Scottish No 1, speaking to Scotland on Sunday before heading across the Atlantic on Wednesday to start her second year as a ‘Gamecock’ in Columbia in South Carolina.

“I’d taken two weeks off beforehand and that was a big thing for me after being so busy the last year or so. As a result of that, I didn’t really know how my game was going to be and it was more just a case of trying to enjoy the week, which I certainly did.”

Kathryn Imrie, a winner on the LPGA Tour and a two-time Solheim Cup vice captain, accompanied the tartan trio on the trip to France in her new role as Scottish Golf’s performance coach.

“Hannah has really come on,” she observed. “I saw her at the 2019 Junior Solheim Cup and everything has changed so much since then. She’s doing some great stuff in the gym and looks both strong and fit.

“I’ve been around the best female golfers in the world and she’s up with them when it comes to hitting the ball, for sure. The future looks bright for her. She’s got to sharpen up a few things, her short game mainly. I’m not saying her short game is bad. But, to get to that next level, it just needs to be tidied up and she’ll be there.

“She’s got a really good head on her shoulders, too, and is getting some good advice from her own coach, Ian Muir, and also her coach in the States. We are all on the same page in terms of trying to get her to the next level and it’s an exciting time for Hannah and Scottish Golf.”

Darling currently sits 15th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, with England’s Caley McGinty the only British or Irish player in a higher position. She also occupies a lofty seventh spot in the European Golf Rankings.

“It was a big learning year for me,” declared Darling. “It’s obviously been a great year with some great accomplishments, but it’s almost taught me that it’s important to take some time off. It’s about making sure that I take care of myself because, at the end of the day, I’m not going to be able to perform to the best of my ability if I’m not feeling good and almost burnt out.

“I had Covid at the (NCAA) Nationals and couldn’t play a round there and then played the Curtis Cup a week after having Covid, so I struggled my way round in that. I then had to pull out of the Arnold Palmer Cup (in France, where she was due to be on the International team alongside McClymont) as I still wasn’t feeling well enough.

“It took me a while to get back to full health, to be honest. There was no worse feeling sitting at the Nationals when the rest of the team was out on the golf course and there was nothing I could do to help them as we ended up missing the cut and not making it to the match-play stage.

“I will always remember that feeling as it really hurt at the time and I don’t want to ever feel that again, so it is important that I take the time I need to make sure I am feeling good all the time.”

While acknowledging that McClymont also deserves praise for her continuing improvement, Imrie Is delighted to have Darling as her “role model” and Darling herself is happy to shoulder that added responsibility.

“You always want to leave Scottish Golf in a better place and I hope that young kids are inspired to get to where I am now,” she said. “But it’s more than just playing well. I also want them to be a good team-mate and things like that, which is ultimately what it is all about for me.”

“It’s about creating a better culture. Some of the years in the past being involved with Scottish Golf hasn’t been as great as it might have looked and some teams haven’t been that enjoyable. If people are enjoying themselves, ultimately you are going to play well.

“I think Kathryn is going to do good things for Scottish Golf and we are chuffed that we’ve recorded the best performance in this event so far but, at the same time, we are going to try to beat that the next time.”

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