DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rising young English star Charley Hull isn’t going to take the beaten path anywhere.
Her father, Dave, a retired plasterer, says that’s a family trait, traceable back to her maternal grandmother, a Polish resistance fighter who took a long, arduous journey making a new home in England.
Charley’s grandmother, Irena Pernak, was just 13 when the Russians invaded Poland, but that didn’t stop the Russians from sending her to a labor camp in Siberia after they captured her.
“Charley’s grandmother escaped from that camp,” Dave said Thursday behind the 13th green at LPGA International’s Jones Course as he watched Charley play the second round of LPGA Q-School. “She ended up in Persia, where she went to work for the Red Cross. Charley’s got a lot of her grandmother’s spirit. She’s going to do things her own way.”
And that brings us to Q-School, where Hull didn’t arrive this week feeling all the nerves that players typically bring to this 90-hole pressure cooker.
“I hate Q-School,” Hull said after posting a 3-under-par 69 Thursday to get herself back in the mix for a tour card after opening with a 75. She’s tied for 39th with three rounds to go.
Hull, 18, isn’t living and dying with every shot this week. In fact, she won’t be crushed if she doesn’t finish among the top 20 who earn full status to play the LPGA next season, or among the top 45 who earn conditional status.
“If I don’t get my card, I won’t be overly disappointed,” Hull said.
That’s because Hull doesn’t put a lot of validity in Q-School. She doesn’t like the concept as a true measure of whether a player is ready to play a tour. She knows from experience. After turning pro at 16, she failed to advance through the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School, but then she took the tour by storm anyway last year.
She got her first start at the Lalla Meryem Cup on a sponsor’s invite and finished second. That got her into the South African Women’s Open for her next start, where she finished second again. She would go on to finish second in her first five starts to earn full status on the LET Tour based on her non-member earnings.
“That’s why I don’t feel a lot of pressure this week,” Hull said.
Hull knows she’s ready for the LPGA. She showed it this year playing as a non-member. She won $213,005 in nine LPGA starts. She tied for seventh at the Kraft Nabisco and tied for third at the Airbus LPGA Classic.
If Hull must return to the LET full time next year, she will be content doing so, knowing she could get as many as 11 LPGA starts as a non-member. She could make it into all five LPGA major championships, plus play in up to six other events on sponsor exemptions.
Even if she wins an LPGA tour card this week, Hulls says she probably won’t play a full LPGA schedule next year. She still loves being at home in England, and she is intent on not missing out on her life with her friends there.
“I’m only 18 once,” Hull said. “You can never get your childhood back.”
Hull grew up in Kettering, England, where she still lives with her parents, Dave and Basinka. She is the youngest of their three daughters.
“Charley loves being with her friends, playing golf with them when she’s home, she really does,” Dave says.
Hull is no golfing machine. Under that bundle of blonde locks, and behind that bright smile, there’s a teenager with interests beyond making birdies.
“I have so many years to play in the future, there is no rush,” Hull said.
And yet Hull is racing to feats quicker than any woman in LET history. At 17, she became the youngest Solheim Cup player in history last year, helping the Europeans upset the Americans while capturing the fancy of American audiences when she upset U.S. star Paula Creamer in singles and then asked Creamer for an autograph.
Hull was the LET’s Rookie of the Year last season, and now she’s aiming to become the youngest Order of Merit winner in tour history. She will fly to the LET’s season-ending event at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters next week in a bid to win the Order of Merit.
Hull’s independent spirit is something her father has encouraged, even nurtured. Dave didn’t take up golf until he was 45, and he doesn’t coach his daughter. In fact, he tries to stay as far in the background as he can. You won’t see him hovering behind greens or tee boxes this week. He’s typically a hundred yards away, watching from a distance.
“I wasn’t planning on coming to the course today, but Charley said she wanted to see me out here,” Dave said. “I believe if your child’s interested in golf, you get them lessons, and you support them any way you can, but you don’t get in their way. She likes learning things on her own. She believes it’s her game and nobody else’s.”
That’s why Dave didn’t hire a full-time caddie for Charley for her first 16 months as a pro. They hired local caddies, instead. She learned to do her own yardage books, pull her own clubs and read greens herself.
“I like to learn the hard way,” Hull said. “When people tell me things, I don’t listen.”
Before the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year, the Hulls finally hired a full-time caddie, Gary Wildman, another Englishman who is just making his start in the profession.
“We’re learning together,” Hull said.
It promises to be golf’s version of alternative education.