Festive time proves to be no rest time for Charley Hull in her breakout golfing year
Charley Hull spent her first couple of days as European No 1 in Dubai, enjoying some rare downtime, but then the itch began to take hold.
“Good few days without hitting a golf club,” she tweeted. “Looking forward to getting back at it again soon!”
It says much about Hull’s devotion to the game. For most teenagers, Christmas cannot usually come early enough, but last year Hull traded partying for practice.
Instead of prolonging the festivities at home, she headed to the range, sharpening a skill-set that this month carried her to the summit of the Ladies European Tour (LET).
Having turned 18 last March, though, Hull finally plans to let her hair down. Fair to say she deserves it.
“Last time, I went practising on Christmas Day with my friend, which was funny,” she says.
“But I don’t think I’ll do it this year. I want to enjoy Christmas, because I’ve had a great season and the way to get better sometimes is to rest.
“Rest is the key thing. People tell me that all the time. It’s annoying, but you have to. Because I don’t listen very much. It goes in one ear and out the other.”
Hull tweeted yesterday that, while most people were tucking into their Turkey, she hit the range for an hour.
But then again, it has served her so well in the past. After bursting onto the scene in 2013 – five consecutive runner-up finishes, a starring role at the Solheim Cup, LET rookie of the year honours – the Englishwoman has enjoyed a breakout season.
At the Lalla Meryem Cup, days before her 18th birthday, Hull triumphed in a play-off to register her first professional victory.
At the Kraft Nabisco – her third major championship as a pro – she went out on Sunday in the second last group before finishing seventh.
It aided her climb to 26th in the world rankings, while she banked £208,500 (Dh1.9 million) on the LET to become the youngest player to clinch its Order of Merit crown. The win in Morocco was the spark.
“I had all those seconds and kept feeling like I was knocking at the door,” Hull says. “I’d hit a window, but then I smashed it and got through it.
“It was just the best feeling ever when that putt on the play-off hole went in. I remember it like it was two minutes ago.”
Given her remarkable rise, it most probably was. Hull has only just wrapped a second season on tour, but the past 24 months have gone by in a flash.
“With me, I rush everything too fast, go at 100 miles per hour,” she says. “So the biggest thing is to calm down a little bit. Looking forward, it’s definitely just to pace myself.”
That may be difficult through 2015. Days before sealing the Order of Merit with a tied-fifth finish at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, Hull was in Florida at LPGA Q-School, obtaining conditional status on the United States’s primary circuit for next year.
Already, the majors form a legitimate target, although Hull is reluctant to set goals. It helps minimise the strain, manage expectation and maintain focus.
The approach is refreshing, if not typical of a talented teen with faith in her ability and nothing to fear.
“I don’t know what would represent a successful 2015,” she says. “Just try to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of shots in every tournament, that’d be good. It’s one shot at a time.
“It keeps the pressure off. At the end of the day, golf’s only a game. You play it for enjoyment. The way I look at it, say someone else’s job is in the army or something, having a bad day at work means they could lose a leg. Me, I could just lose a golf ball.”
She has quickly found her footing. Despite the plaudits and the prizes, Hull remains grounded, even when Tony Jacklin recently said she stood “on the threshold of greatness”, or when Laura Davies described her as the future of British golf.
The profile is building, too: this month, Omega jumped at the chance to make Hull a brand ambassador.
The demands on time and the glare of the spotlight will therefore intensify, yet she is not bowed by it, far from it.
“It’s something you have to do,” Hull says. “I like it. You learn to handle it from experience. I’ve got that focus myself, because I’ve noticed if someone tells me something I’m not going to listen until I’ve learnt the lesson on my own.
“My dad’s always let me learn the hard way. It’s definitely one thing I’ve always done.”
That much is corroborated by Gary Wildman, Hull’s caddie.
Appointed in March, Wildman has witnessed close at hand Hull develop into one of the game’s brightest talents.
He tells the story of this year’s British Open, when Hull played three rounds with Stacy Lewis, the defending champion and recent world No 1, and finished on the same score.
Yet having noticed Lewis’s superior putting at Royal Birkdale, Hull headed to the putting green rather than watch the winner’s presentation.
The only player there, for two hours she honed a new technique that facilitated her fine second half to the season.
Dedication appears her default setting. “The best way I could describe Charley is that she’s a 21st century golfer,” Wildman says. “She’s not just a great ball-striker, but mentally she’s very, very impressive.
“Yet she has traditional values in the integrity and the work ethic and, for an 18 year old, that’s unbelievable.
“Charley won’t get emotional about winning the order of merit. She’ll just say ‘well, that’s what I was destined to do’.
“The talent is unreal – I totally believe she’ll be in the top five in the world by the time she’s 21.”
Wildman expects Hull to take it all in her stride.
“It’s phenomenal; as a caddie, it is hard to take in,” he says. “Charley’s very passionate about golf and works extremely hard, but away from the course she’ll never talk about it.
“She has the ability to turn on and turn off. It’s a dream, a big strength. She looks 35 on the course but is a teenager off it.”
Hull will allow herself to act her age this Christmas.
It could be tough to lead an ordinary life given her extraordinary talent, but she does not feel she misses out at all.
“Not really, because I make up for it when I’m at home,” she says. “I go out with friends, relax and do pretty much what normal 18-year-old English people do. My friends don’t usually chat about golf.”
It certainly crept into the conversation this Christmas. Hull may have initially decided to stay away from the range yesterday, there she was, club in hand, presumably plotting the next stage of an already exceptional journey.
“I can’t wait to work on a lot of stuff in my game,” she says. “This year I’ve had a great season, but I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily played very well except in places. I was thinking, imagine if I play how I expect to play all the time, I’ll be where I want to be. It’s really exciting.”
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Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM