Japan's Hinako Shibuno Completes Spectacular Tale at Woburn

By: | Mon 05 Aug 2019 | Comments

Known as the 'Smiling Cinderella' back home, Japan's Hinako Shibuno produced the most stunning of fairytales to birdie the final hole and win the Women's British Open at Woburn.

Remarkably, this was not only the 20-year-old's debut major and first LPGA Tour appearance, but her first time playing golf outside her native land, where her ability to clinch tournament victories had already been showcased twice on the LPGA Tour of Japan this season.

Due to that success, she came to England ranked 44th in the world, having started the year at 559th, but not even the most seasoned and knowledgeable of viewers could have imagined that Shibuno would depart Buckinghamshire with the trophy in hand. 

Charming the galleries with her permanent smile and gracious, cordial demeanour, the infectious youngster began Sunday with a two shot lead, though facing the ominous challenge of many chasing stars.

World number two Sung-Hyun Park drifted away, likewise the home favourites Charley Hull and Bronte Law, but it was Lizette Salas who came closest to shattering the tale, putting together the round of her life in search of her first major.

The determined Solheim Cup star was metronomic with her ball striking and driving - hitting 80% of fairways this season - and the 30-year-old was seemingly in a head-to-head battle with two-time major champion Jin Young Ko, who was hoping to join rare company in winning three grand slam titles in one year. 

Salas and Ko showcased an exhibition, ultimately shooting 65 and 66 respectively, thrilling the spectators in attendance. For the American, it was so nearly a 64, with her birdie putt on the last lipping out. Agonising. Nonetheless, 17-under was surely a good enough total for a playoff.

Due to her inexperience, some may have doubted whether the vivacious Shibuno would last the course, especially after four-putting for double bogey on the third. But she recovered with birdies on the fifth and seventh, before coming to her favourite half of the Marquess layout - the back-nine - where she had remarkably accumulated the entirety of her under par score for the week.

Four birdies and four pars later, standing on the 18th fairway tied with Salas - after exchanging high fives with the fans - a tremendous approach shot reached the upper tier of the green, ascending to the right level with the hole, though 18ft away.

Her effort certainly wasn't going to be short - it ran into the hole at prodigious pace - denying Salas a reprieve of extra holes, completing an extraordinary triumph that serves as a fitting closing chapter to a memorable year of majors in golf.

"I still feel like I'm going to vomit," Shibuno said on Sky Sports afterwards. "I was more nervous on the front nine but I was OK on the back nine. I felt like I was going to cry on the 18th but the tears didn't come out."

She is only Japan's second major champion - the first since Chako Higuchi at the 1977 Women's PGA Championship - and this success will have a significant impact within a nation that has long been enraptured with the game. 
Doors have opened. LPGA Tour membership beckons, and Shibuno - backed by her caddie/coach, father and colourfully attired manager, will be popular additions to the American circuit if and when she takes that opportunity.
Occasionally, sport creates unforgettable stories, and this victory of Hinako Shibuno ranks among them. Remember the name. Golf has a new, smiling star, and she can play.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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