WOBURN, England – Charley Hull dearly loves the childhood friends she still keeps so close, and that’s why she is practically forbidding them from coming to watch her play the Ricoh Women’s British Open this week.
That goes for her two sisters, too.
She doesn’t want them all roaming Woburn Golf Club this week. It doesn’t matter that Woburn, where Hull has been a member since she was 11, is only 40 minutes south of Kettering, where they all grew up.
“I don’t know why,” Hull says of her strong feelings.
That’s classic Hull, quixotic and honest to an endearing fault.
Hull, 20, the best female player in England today, the guileless starlet with the blonde locks and unfiltered opinions, is feeling a bit of pressure to perform as the showcase player with the Women’s British Open in her backyard.
Mostly, she says, she feels pressure to keep the life she has in this part of England separate from the life she lives as an LPGA pro.
“I just feel like my friends are my friends outside golf,” Hull said Wednesday, on the eve of the championship’s start. “I just don’t want them asking, 'So why did you hit that there? Or what does that mean, or what’s this?’
“I’ve had family come, and sometimes I try and distance myself. My sisters, especially, they don’t know much about golf. If I’ve had a bad round, they are like, 'Well, I could easily have holed that,’ or 'I could have done this.’ I’m like, 'Just be quiet.’
“I haven’t really got them coming this week. They might pop around in the evening, that’s it.”
If you weren’t there to hear Hull say that, if you don’t know Hull’s unaffected, unselfconscious persona, you might think that sounded mean. For Charley, it’s not. It’s seeing what’s important, the relationships, and how golf’s just not as important as this separate life she cherishes in this part of the world, the home she wants to shelter and protect from the insanity that golf can become on a world stage.
Hull confesses she’s feeling emotions this week she hasn’t felt in Solheim Cups or other major championships. On her 18th birthday, she signed a deal to represent Woburn as its touring pro, joining Ian Poulter in that function. So Hull wasn’t going to hide the challenges this week presents when media asked in her news conference.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me this week, which is a bit annoying,” Hull said. “At the end of the day, it’s my home course, and it’s great to have it here. It will be nice to see all of the members come out and to have their support, because there are a great bunch of people here at Woburn. I always feel so welcome.”
At Woburn, Hull has her own parking space with her name on it, right behind Poulter’s. She owns a BMW X3, but she doesn’t have a driver’s license. She doesn’t drive yet. Her father uses the parking space to get her to the club, or to take the family’s new dog to the course to romp around the fairways.
Hull, seeking to make her first LPGA title a major breakthrough, is going to allow one friend to come watch her this week. That would be James Northern. He’s in construction in Kettering. He has played golf with Hull since she was 7 years old at Kettering Golf Club.
Northern became part of Hull’s story when she took the international stage so grandly at the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado, where at just 17 she famously whipped Paula Creamer and then asked Creamer for an autograph after.
Hull wasn’t asking for the autograph for herself. She wanted it for Northern, a Creamer fan, who asked if it might be possible.
Northern was at Woburn on Wednesday, on the range with Hull, watching her hit shots.
“That Solheim Cup was televised late over here, and I was half asleep when I saw Charley getting Paula to autograph a ball,” Northern said. “I replayed it, and I kind of laughed. It shocked me she actually did it. It was such a nice thing to do.”
That’s the Charley her friends know, the friends she escapes to to find the shelter of normal life.
“Charley’s won on [the Ladies European Tour],” said Dave, her father. “She’s made a few quid, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of who she is, whatsoever. She is a real person, a normal kid. She has these great friends here at home that she loves to be around, normal kids. They work in a bar or a bank, and when Charley has time off, she wants to be with them.”
When the madness of the Women’s British Open is over, Charley is going to take three of her girlfriends from Kettering to Ibiza, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. Hull is paying for the trip. She’s taken her friends there before.
“I’m more proud of Charley being a good kid with good manners than a good golfer,” Dave said.
Charley still lives with her parents, in the home she grew up, in a little village just outside Kettering. Dave bought the home when Charley was 3. He is a retired plasterer who guided his daughter in the game more than he steered her, after she found the game on her own. Dave didn’t know a lot about golf, but as he realized his daughter had special gifts, he got advice from people like Tony Jacklin, the two-time major championship winner from England.
Jacklin told Dave not to get Charley a regular caddie too early, to make her learn for herself all the things a good caddie would do for her. While Charley has swing coaches, Dave also encouraged her to learn her own swing, so she could fix herself.
“Some things are just common sense,” Dave said.
Charley is allowing her friend James to come watch her this week because he is her best golfing buddy from home. They still play together at Kettering Golf Club.
“James keeps me calm and relaxed and stuff,” Hull said.
James knows how quixotic Charley can sound, but he appreciates how that hasn’t really changed through all their years together.
“Charley is a little crazy, in a good way,” James said. “She is fun, she likes to laugh, and she doesn’t take things too seriously, which is a really good thing . . . Charley is Charley.”
All Charley’s friends know exactly what that means.