Print and Go Back ESPN.com: News & Commentary [Print without images]

Saturday, April 5, 2014
Charley Hull chasing the leaders

By Mick Elliott
Special to espnW.com

Charley Hull
Charley Hull turned 18 last month and won her first Ladies European Tour title. She now eyes something bigger.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- It was last December when then-17-year-old Brit Charley Hull, wrapping up a Ladies European Tour rookie of the year season and Solheim Cup appearance, was asked about major championships.

You have to love the honesty of youth.

"Well, it would be pretty awesome if I could win a major next year," she said.

Charley Hull, Paula Creamer
A captain's at-large pick for the Solheim Cup, Charley Hull responded by trouncing Paula Creamer 5 and 4 in singles.

This year has arrived, and look what Hull is doing at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"Hitting it and seeing where it goes," she said.

It's going very well, thank you.

Hull, who last month -- four days short of her 18th birthday -- won her first European Tour title in Morocco, shot a third-round 6-under-par 66 on Saturday. She will go into Sunday's final round of the season's first major 8-under and two shots behind co-leaders Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, both at 10-under.

"I hit it quite well," Hull said, after a round of six birdies and no bogeys. "My irons were pretty good, and I hit some good drives. I hit some bad drives toward the end, which I'm working on on the range. But I holed good putts, and when I got myself in trouble, I was able to get out of it. I'm pretty happy."

Hull has game. She turned pro in early 2013 and debuted on the Ladies European Tour by rolling off five straight runner-up finishes. With five additional top-10s, she finished sixth on the tour's Order of Merit. European Solheim Cup captain Liselotte Neumann was so impressed, she made Hull an at-large pick, and the teenager responded by winning two points -- including a 5 and 4 waxing of American star Paula Creamer in singles.

She is chipper and precocious, mature beyond her years but blessed with the fearlessness of youth. And now, she seeks to become the youngest major champion in the history of women's golf.

When I won, I thought, 'Alright, I feel a lot better.' But I think it was because I have imagined myself winning so many times and dreaming it, but actually I made it, and when it turned into reality, it was like, 'Alright.' I kind of expected it.

-- Charley Hull

"We played together at the British Open," Wie recalled. "She's a really good player, as we know from the Solheim Cup. Really feisty. She's a good player. Really solid. Definitely does not seem that young."

Hull also remembers the Solheim Cup experience and promises to draw from it.

"It's given me confidence for the rest of the year to now," she said. "But it's put a bit of pressure on me as well to perform out there because I haven't won yet until two weeks ago, when I won my first pro event. Now I feel like I deserve to be in some LPGA events. I got some invites, and I've kind of got the monkey off my back. I've got the win, and hopefully, there are many more coming."

No one in women's golf doubts there are many more victories to come. To claim her first title, she posted a 9-under final round -- and then wondered why she wasn't more excited.

"When I won, I thought, 'Alright, I feel a lot better,'" Hull said. "But I think it was because I have imagined myself winning so many times and dreaming it, but actually I made it, and when it turned into reality, it was like, 'Alright.' I kind of expected it. And I really want to win again now because I've got the bug for it. I suppose anyone would have the bug for that, but it was just alright."

Hull will be the mystery guest in Sunday's final-round push. She'll play in the next-to-final group with Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak while chasing Americans Wie and Thompson. She's not even an LPGA member, deciding to bypass the tour's qualifying school to remain closer to home this year.

"I was really enjoying my friends and stuff at home, just being a kid, going out and going to parties and stuff," she said. "I don't want to miss that living over here full time at the moment, because I was still 17. I still wanted my childhood in a way.

"I've got another 20 or, hopefully, 30 years of playing golf, so there's no rush for me to get over here [to the LPGA Tour in the U.S.]."

In that case, she might as well get the most out of each visit.