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  • Alistair Tait

#WomenWorthWatching wonderings

Hard to pick between cheering for Hinako Shibuno and amateurs Linn Grant of Sweden and American Kaitlyn Papp to win the U.S. Women’s Open. Any one of them lifting the trophy would be a fantastic story.

You can bet the majority of Woburn Golf Club members will be rooting hard for Shibuno, who takes a three-shot lead into the final 36 holes. Ditto for anyone else lucky enough to have watched her win last year’s AIG Women’s British Open over Woburn’s Marquess Course.

Those with an affection for amateur golf will be hoping Grant and Papp can end a 53-year wait for an unpaid player to join Catherine Lacoste as an amateur major winner. The French player won the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open, and remains the only amateur to win a women’s major. Grant, the world’s fifth ranked amateur, holds solo second place, while 19th ranked Papp is one of three players four shots off the lead in joint third place.

Shibuno practically lit up the skies over Woburn last year when she won her first major championship. She smiled her way round all 72 holes with a refreshing pace of play that many tournament professionals, women and men, would do well to follow.

Shibuno has no problem adhering to the 40-second shot recommendation that came into effect when the rules changed last year. Perhaps the R&A and USGA drafted the rule with her in mind. I just wish they’d impose the recommendation more rigorously. While she’s happy to get on with it, many tour professionals don’t seem to have reached that part of the rule book. In fact, many rules officials seem to have conveniently forgotten it exists. Hint: it’s contained in Rule 5.6, 5.6b to be precise. Oh, if only it was an actual rule rather than a recommendation.

The only time Shibuno wasn’t quick last year was when it came to departing the scene of her greatest moment in golf. Long after she drained that 18-foot birdie putt on the final green to defeat Lizette Salas by a shot, Shibuno was still posing for photographs and signing autographs. She seemed oblivious that darkness had descended over the Woburn clubhouse. Her smile alone lent a brightness to the August evening.

She isn’t called the “Smiling Cinderella” for nothing, you know. No wonder many Woburn members probably smile fondly at the poster of Shibuno that hangs in the window to the right of the golf club entrance every time they enter the clubhouse.

Shibuno gives the impression she’s out for a bounce game every time she tees it up. She might take a three-shot lead into the final round of the final major of 2020, but she says she isn’t too perturbed by shouldering the weight of expectation:

“No pressure whatsoever,” she said. “I'm playing a major in the United States, unlike when I was at the AIG Women’s Open, where I feel like I am starting from scratch.”

She would be a popular winner even if she’s telling porkies about not feeling any pressure.

Quite how amateurs Grant and Papp will handle the pressure over the final 36 holes is going to be fascinating to watch. They are two of six amateurs to make the cut out of a total of 24 who teed it up on Thursday. Grant’s compatriot Ingrid Lindblad, the world number four, is next best placed at T14 on 1-under. Current number three and former number one Pauline Roussin-Bouchard of France is at level par in joint 20th along with another Swede in Maja Stark, the world’s 14th best amateur. Australian Gabby Ruffels is tied for 29th on 1-over. She’s the world’s 10th ranked amateur.

Since Lacoste’s win, five amateurs have finished runner-up in American’s national championship. They are Nancy Lopez (1975), Jenny Chuasiriporn (1998), Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang (both 2005), and Hye-Jin Choi 2017.

Can Grant and co do what Lacoste did all those years ago? Or will the speedy Smiling Cinderella pull off another fairy tale story with her second major victory?

Hmmmm, Shibuno or an amateur victory? Pass me a coin to toss, please.

#JustSaying: “Hey, hurry up Gene (Sarazen), I’ve got a date tonight.” Walter Hagen

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