Did you watch any of the 2019 British Open Golf Championship this year?
No, not the men’s British Open. I am talking about last weekend’s British Open that brought the best lady golfers in the world to a tree-lined, inland course in Merry Olde England.
The men played their version of this wonderfully staid and proper old event earlier this season in Northern Ireland. It was fun and all that, but for me it didn’t hold a candle to the dramatic performances by this year’s global field of amazing lady golfers.
If you didn’t tune in you missed seeing 20-year-old Hinako Shibuno from Japan catch lightning in a bottle.
Nicknamed the Smiling Princess in her homeland, Hinako came to the British Open to play outside Japan for the very first time in her life. My goodness, she’s just a rosy-cheeked rookie on her own country’s LPGA tour for crying out loud.
What a wonderfully refreshing and sincere personality she has ... as was obvious for all to see.
This kid (20 is still a near-newborn from the perspective of a 70-year-old) signed autographs, gave away a signed glove, posed for selfies and high-fived folks in the galleries all four days of this most dignified (read: stodgy) tournament ... and she did all that during play!
Such relaxed behavior is absolutely unheard of in professional golf at any level.
While all the ladies around her were gritting their teeth on every shot and grinding it out, our delightfully blissful heroine was oblivious to any pressure whatsoever.
She didn’t even realize until arriving at the venue that it wasn’t the seaside, windswept, craggy links course she expected to play but rather a tree-lined layout like the ones she plays at home.
Upon arrival in the press tent to be interviewed by a small army of media, Hinako promptly sat down on the front row among the press corps, not realizing the stage up front was where she belonged. It brought a chuckle from the writers and broadcasters who, along with people lining the fairways and folks like me at home, took this charmer straight into their hearts.
Light-hearted and fun-loving though she obviously is, make no mistake; this girl’s got game. Though no bigger than a niblick herself, she hits it a ton off the tee, is a sharpshooter with her mid-irons and putts like there’s ice water pulsing in her veins.
I bet you also missed how she lost the lead several times on the weekend, only to scrap back and regain it again and again. Everyone – her competitors, TV announcers and certainly me – was waiting for the inevitable moment when the weight of what she was doing would finally overcome her profound inexperience. The inevitable collapse would surely follow.
Never happened. Not so much as a wobble.
She and full-grown LPGA veteran Lizette Salas of the U.S.A. approached the 18th and final hole of the tournament on Sunday locked in a tie.
Salas was first to play the hole. Hinako was coming behind in the final pairing of the tourney.
A birdie would give Salas the outright lead, but her short, ho-hum putt lipped out for par.
Hinako needed par to tie and force a playoff; however a clutch birdie would win it right there and then. She smiled, joked with her caddie, waved and smiled to the gallery, then settled over the ball and slammed a long putt dead-center in the cup with a quickly-played, fearless stroke and claimed the most unlikely professional golf victory in almost forever ... men or women.
I am so thankful retired status permitted me to tune in for most of four days.
What isn’t so satisfying is that fair Hinako earned $675,000 for the victory. That sounds like a lot of money and to most of us it dang sure is ... until you consider Shane Lowry pocketed $1.35 million for winning the same championship for men.
Salas took home $409,000 compared to $1.120 million for the male runner-up.
Third through fifth place for the women came in at $297,000, $229,000 and $185,000. The men, by contrast, won $718,000, $558,000 and $449,000 for those same placements.
I realize sponsors and TV contracts and other dollar and cents factors favor the men. Their profile in the world of golf is many times higher than the ladies. But still ...
For me the sad numbers aren’t the ones on the scorecards of these amazingly talented women; they’re the ones with $ signs.