She'd never played a competitive round outside of her native Japan – then she came to the UK and won the Women's British Open. Third on the list of NCG's Player of the Year is Hinako Shibuno
If there were a Manager of the Year award then Hiroshi Shigematsu would walk away with it. Much like his player, Hinako Shibuno, nobody outside of Japan knew very much about either of them – come the end of the Women’s British Open they were the feel-good story of the year.
The then 20-year-old had never played in a major before, nor had she played in a tournament outside Japan. When she turned up to the Woburn she thought all Women’s British Opens were playing on links courses.
She then rattled in this putt to win by one from Lizette Salas…
— AIG Women’s British Open (@AIGWBO) August 4, 2019
Who knows where it would have finished up had it not tumbled in, but it was the perfect climax to a brilliant week.
There was everything to like about the ‘Smiling Cinderella’; her pace of play, her ability to chuck down a ridiculous amount of sweets, her endless smiles and high fives and her honesty. At the start of the week she explained that the professional golfer’s test in Japan that she took only the previous year had made her “want to vomit”.
When faced with her approach to the 72nd hole she and her coach-slash-caddie would again dissolve into hysterics.
She would later reveal what she said: “If I shank this it will be really embarrassing.”
As for Shigematsu well his plan was to try and keep his player as loose as possible. He did this by dressing up in a variety of fancy dress outfits. And not just any fancy dress; on Thursday he went for a Mount Fuji work of art on his head, on Friday he tempered things a little with a Japanese flag on his cheek before his big finish over the weekend.
His Saturday ensemble was the old, standard combo of black kimono and blue afro wig, accessorised with a plastic samurai sword.
Before keeping a low profile on Sunday…
So here he is! Hinako Shibuno’s manager is all suited up behind the first tee. pic.twitter.com/wPT1VGfQdv
— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) August 4, 2019
“It makes her smile. It relaxes her,” was his version of events.
The accepted path for Shibuno following Woburn was that she would switch to play full-time on the LPGA Tour. Not so.
“I don’t think I have enough skills to play on the LPGA, and only my first year on the Japan Tour, so I think I need to play a few more years on the Japan Tour before going to the US,” Shibuno said.
So, despite winning two times in Japan following her major breakthrough, she still wants to earn her stripes on her home tour though she is of course exempt for next year’s majors.
Shibuno will defend her title at Royal Troon, a first for the Women’s British Open, and, unlike Woburn, is a links course.
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