At-home Hull forbidding family, friends from Woburn

By Randall MellJuly 27, 2016, 7:42 pm

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.

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“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.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.