Charley Hull enjoying her youth
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Most golf fans in the United States got their introduction to English teen sensation Charley Hull during the Solheim Cup in August. Asked if it is fun for her to be recognized for her part in Europe's first Solheim victory on U.S. soil, Hull sort of shrugged. The Solheim was great, but ...
"It seems ages ago now," Hull said.
Time really is different when you're 18, isn't it? Last summer is ancient history. This summer is a wide-open canvas. At that age, it seems like there will be unlimited summers and opportunities to do amazing things with them.
I'm only 18, and I still want to have my youth. I've got plenty of years to be out here full time. I want to enjoy life.Charley Hull
Hull is not a member of the LPGA Tour, but she received a sponsor's exemption to play in last week's Kingsmill Championship, where she tied for 18th. She will also play in this week's Airbus Classic in Mobile, Alabama. And then?
"I want to go home, go out and party and see my friends, go to barbecues and relax a bit," she said. "I'm only 18, and I still want to have my youth. I've got plenty of years to be out here full time. I want to enjoy life."
That sounds like a normal teenager. But what is "normal" for a teen who already is playing professional golf? It depends on the teen.
There are two teenagers currently in the top six in the world rankings, and both are LPGA members: No. 3 Lydia Ko, who turned 17 in April, and No. 6 Lexi Thompson, who turned 19 in February.
In between them age-wise is Hull, who is ranked No. 43 in the world and is leading the Ladies European Tour money list. Hull celebrated her 18th birthday on March 20. Just four days before that, she won her first pro title, the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, and did so with an impressive final-round charge.
Hull carded a 62, making up five shots on leader Gwladys Nocera on the last day to force a playoff. Hull won that on the first hole.
"It felt really good, especially shooting 9 under in the last round," Hull said. "Going from that to the Kraft Nabisco a couple of weeks after, fresh from my win, I felt confident, and I played really well. Shame I couldn't finish it off, but I did finish top-10. I played really good that week, got a lot of experience."
Hull ended up tied for seventh in April at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA season's first major, shooting a 76 Sunday at Rancho Mirage, California, after a low-round 66 the previous day. Winning on Sunday was Thompson, the product of a golf-devoted family. Thompson qualified for her first U.S. Women's Open at age 12 and seems to have been groomed as her own golfing brand practically since she was a toddler.
A true prodigy
Hull's talent was evident at a similarly early age, but Hull wasn't born into the game the way the American was. Hull's father, Dave, had only recently taken up golf when the youngest of his three children started pestering him for some clubs because her little pal next door had them.
"The lad was about 4, around the same age as Charley," Dave Hull recalled. "And she said, 'Ben's playing, Dad. Can I play too?' So I got her some clubs, because I'd just started playing myself. I didn't start until I was 44.
"And off the two of them went. I used to take them out to play on a par 3, and they were both brilliant. And it carried on from there. But Ben packed it in; his mum wanted him to play football. But Charley carried on and loved it."
Dave admittedly was no golf expert then -- he still doesn't claim to be -- but he was struck by what a natural his daughter seemed to be.
"As soon as she picked the club up, it was so strange," he said. "She could hit a golf ball. She swung it unbelievable."
By 9, Charley had won a women's national amateur championship in the United Kingdom -- even though she was just as interested at the time, she said, in playing video games on her Nintendo DS.
She was tutored then by the pro at her home club in Kettering, England, and also by Lee Scarbrow, who worked with British PGA Tour player Ian Poulter.
"He first saw her when she was 9," Dave Hull said of Scarbrow, who still works with Charley. "He said, 'She's got the best hands I've seen in golf. She knows what she's doing.'"
At 13, Charley started being home-schooled, which made it easier for her to play lots of amateur events. She helped the Great Britain/Ireland team win the Curtis Cup over the United States in 2012. She also played in two LPGA majors that year, the Kraft Nabisco and the Women's British Open.
It was pretty clear by that point that Hull was headed to the professional ranks sooner rather than later. She turned pro in January 2013, posted five straight runner-up finishes early in the year on the Ladies European Tour and ended up as rookie of the year.
Fun and fearless
It was in August of last year that we found out Hull excelled at something else: inadvertently cracking up LPGA veteran Suzann Pettersen. The Norwegian is known as one of the more intimidating players in women's golf. She's got "the stare," for sure. But during a Solheim Cup news conference, Hull's bubbly enthusiasm and teenage chatterbox way of talking gave Pettersen a case of uncontrollable giggles.
"I think the Solheim said it all, who she is as a person," Pettersen said last week. "She's so genuine, very talented. It's great to see a young kid like Charley who goes about her business in her own way: fearless. She's an aggressive player.
"I think that's what kind of reminds me of [what] I had in me when I was younger. You just go out and you bomb it. You're not afraid of what not to do. You just look at what you want to do and hit a good shot."
At 17, Hull was the youngest player ever to compete in the Solheim, and she earned two points for the triumphant European squad. The highlight was her 5 and 4 trouncing of Paula Creamer, after which she immediately asked the American star for her autograph. Seems one of Hull's buddies back home in England was a big fan of Creamer's.
That was the Charley-ist of Charley moments in her breakout event -- at least for American audiences -- but her father says what fans are seeing is just the natural evolution of her personality.
"She's blossoming into what she naturally is," he said. "She's a lovely kid who loves playing golf. It's no surprise because you can see she enjoys doing what she's doing."
But haven't we heard that from parents of prodigies before? Yes, but Dave Hull certainly doesn't fit the dreaded profile of overbearing golf dad.
For instance, when you ask if he knows Charley's swing better than anyone, he chuckles.
"No, not really," Dave said. "Her coach has taught me to watch for things. If she has any problem, I can help her sort out the basics. And if I can't, she talks to her coach in England."
Dave generally travels with Charley -- it was mandatory for her to have a companion on the European tour until age 18 -- but you won't find him hovering all the time while she's playing.
"Sometimes I don't go out and watch," Dave said. "As long as she wants me to travel with her, I will. I'll leave that to Charley. I'm a great believer that it's her life, not mine. When she's ready to go out on her own, I'll say, 'You go do it, kid. Go and enjoy your life.' I'll stay at home then with the missus."
Hull is not sure what her schedule will entail the rest of the year, especially in regard to which LPGA events she might play as she balances that with the European Tour. She hasn't -- and won't -- lack for LPGA invitations; she can accept three more sponsor exemptions. Eventually, she expects to join the LPGA full time. She plans on going to Q-school later this year.
"I'm just going to enjoy my experience on the LPGA when I get it," Hull said. "And hopefully I'll be ready when I come here for years to come."
Getting away from the grind
International travel is still something she is adjusting to, but she's getting the hang of it. It's a must for her occupation.
"I love all the countries in Europe; I think they're brilliant," Hull said. "I come to America ... and it's a bit different. But I'm getting used to it over here too and starting to enjoy it. It's fun."
For now, Hull still has a sense she can get away from the grind when she needs to. It's still OK for her to be a kid while she really is still a kid.
Might she be a true star someday in this sport? Might she have a big impact on the popularity of women's golf in the U.K.? Will the English refer to her as "Our Charley?"
Maybe so. The talent, personality and ambition appear to be there. But she knows she doesn't have to get to it any faster than she already has. It's all right to sometimes apply the brakes and go do something with her pals. Golf isn't going away.
"One of the most important things we've always discussed," Dave said, "is if you do too much when you're young, you miss out on your childhood and your youth. And you can't ever get that back. I don't want her to regret that. It's important to balance things at this age."