Women's British Open 2019

Smiling Shibuno's sweet victory

Japanese debutante with candy cravings makes history with 60s in all four rounds

Japan's Hinako Shibuno celebrates after holing a long birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Women's British Open at the Woburn Golf Club on Sunday. It was the 20-year-old's first Major win, on her British Open debut.
Japan's Hinako Shibuno celebrates after holing a long birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Women's British Open at the Woburn Golf Club on Sunday. It was the 20-year-old's first Major win, on her British Open debut.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MILTON KEYNES • Hinako Shibuno captured hearts and minds long before she decided to take delivery of the Women's British Open trophy for good measure.

The Japanese LPGA Tour rookie, who until this tournament had been outside her home country only once - that jaunt to Thailand did not even involve any golf - produced one of the most endearing stories this golfing year by holing out from 18 feet to claim the Major on her debut.

Shibuno, nicknamed "The Smiling Cinderella", will indeed go to the ball after she posted scores in the 60s in every round - the only golfer to do so at Woburn Golf Club - to become just the second Japanese after Hisako "Chako" Higuchi to win an overseas Major and the first in 42 years.

Her four-under 68 for a total of 18-under 270, edging out American Lizette Salas by one stroke, was exemplary on Sunday.

The 20-year-old Shibuno's infectious attitude proved a revelation; in the heat of battle, she was high-fiving spectators and waving to adoring galleries in a manner far from customary in a sport beset by rigidity.

It felt altogether fitting that there was one perfect, marquee moment, delivered with the final putt of the tournament.

Salas, two behind overnight, had caught Shibuno on the front nine and thought she had done enough with a final round of seven-under 65.

But the world No. 46, who turned pro only last year, found five birdies on the way home to close with a fairy-tale ending.

"I feel like I'm going to vomit," said Shibuno, suggesting an anxiety that was not at all apparent. "Contending at a tournament like this is nerve-racking, but I was determined to enjoy it."

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    Years since a Japanese last won an LPGA Major before Hinako Shibuno.

Earlier, she seemed destined to fall short after shooting a double bogey at the third and playing the front nine in 37.

But Shibuno said it was perhaps a blessing in disguise in that it relieved the pressure of being the front-runner, adding: "I was more nervous on the front nine but I was OK on the back nine and just started making birdies.

"I felt like I was going to cry on the 18th but the tears didn't come out. I don't think many people, including me, like to be in a situation where you're leading. I feel like it's better to be behind than leading.

"That was true today and I was able to play easier when I was in that position... That was also true before the putt on the 18th... What I have done is unbelievable."

On an engrossing final afternoon, world No. 1 Ko Jin-young also flirted with the making of history.

The South Korean was seeking to become just the seventh player - male or female - to win three Majors in a single calendar year and could barely have given this a better run after ending the day in third with a final round of 66 for a 16-under 272.

There was, however, one name - a new name - on everyone's lips.

Mainstream sport is all the better for delving into the land of fairy tales now and again. There is also an endearing quality to Shibuno which is often missing in women's golf.

She gave her winner's speech in halting English as the crowd lapped up her giggles, and while her victory has catapulted her into the public consciousness - she was all the rage on morning TV shows in Japan yesterday - she is not only planning to stay in touch with her roots, but is also still a kid at heart when it comes to food cravings.

Asked whether she would now join the LPGA Tour full time and how she would celebrate, she said: "I still want to play on the Japan Tour. If I feel like it, then I'd like to come back and play overseas.

"I want to buy as many sweets as I can eat until I die. I eat a tonne of sweets."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2019, with the headline 'Smiling Shibuno's sweet victory'. Subscribe