07 Oct 2020 | Professional golf |

Green steels herself for PGA defence

by Martin Blake

Hannah Green PGA image
Hannah Green defends her title as the world No. 21. Photo: Getty

Hannah Green learned a lot from her major championship win at Hazeltine last year, most of all about the need for mental toughness.

And she’s about to put all that golfing intellectual property on the again when she defends the Women’s PGA Championship title this week at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia.

Australia’s Green, 23, is in a vastly different space this time around – now regarded as one of the world’s best players and ranked 21st, whereas back in 2019, she was coming off a missed cut and had zero expectations. Her win was a big surprise, even for her, but it would not be a shock to see her contending this week.

The memories are still clear for the reigning Greg Norman medallist. “I guess once I put myself in contention and put myself with the lead, that's when I kind of said to myself, ‘I can win this; there's no reason why I can't’,” said Green today as she prepared at Aronimink. “Yes, I hadn't been in that position many a time before, but because it's a major championship, everyone is feeling the pressure just as much as I was.”

Green’s one-shot win, completed with a brilliant up-and-down from the greenside trap at the 72nd hole, put her on the radar. But typically, she chose to jump on a plane and fly home to Perth straight away, rather than keep grinding on the tour. It is a theme that keeps coming up; even now, she is homesick.

“As soon as I won, I was actually supposed to play in Arkansas the week after, but I had so much media going on here in the US and back in Australia, so I decided to take the week off and go home. Yeah, it was a whirlwind of events, obviously, but because of COVID it's kind of been a little bit different with my title defence. It's actually been not as hectic as I imagined it would be, but it's been really nice. I'm just super excited to get the week started.”

The changes are stark. The LPGA is operation with a ‘bubble’ to guard against the spread of the Covid virus, and the notion of what happened on the 18th green last year – with a bunch of friends flocking around her with a champagne shower including the great Karrie Webb – is unthinkable.

“I guess just looking back at the footage of when I holed the final putt, to see friends come on to the green, especially with COVID we're not allowed as many guests if any guests, so it's kind of strange being in a hotel versus last year being in a house full of seven people.

“It's been a few adjustments, not just with the golf, with the mental side of things with golf. But yeah, I'm just super excited. It's obviously a great position to be in, defending a title, so I hope that I can have this opportunity more often.”

Green’s trip back to the US was delayed when the virus forced some tournament cancellations and postponements but she is already talking about coming home. Today, she said that if she won in Philadelphia she would likely find her way back to Perth immediately; as it stands, she will not be at home until after Christmas. “I'm such a homebody, so that's probably going to be the biggest struggle of the year, so hopefully I can get home earlier than Christmas.”

She travels with fellow tour star Su Oh when she is on tour, which has been a help, and there are plenty of Australians out and about. Even as a young veteran, she is seeing new golfing stars emerge from her home country, like Steph Kyriacou on the European tour, and Gabi Ruffels, the amateur who has had some starts on tour this year.

“Yeah, it's been huge. I think we're really fortunate to have Golf Australia in general. Obviously it's a little bit different here in the US; it is so populated and there are so many golfers, but we are fortunate enough that we can get -- I guess -- some financial help from a young age, and it definitely made a huge difference to when I was making the transition from amateur to professional golf.

“They don't just let you go as soon as you're finished as an amateur; they still have a program for us when we turn professional, so that helped me when I was out on Symetra, and so far I've stayed on LPGA so it's been really nice.

“Yeah, to see Steph doing so well over in Europe, she's had a little bit of a change in her schedule she would say, so it's really nice to see, and yeah, it's nice we have a few of us out here to, I guess, see when we do get homesick and hang out with.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Minjee Lee, the world No. 6. “I actually played with Steph and Gabi maybe (on a) British Open practice round, so yes, it was nice to see -- I've never played with them before, so it was nice.

“It just comes to show that like our program in Australia is in a really strong place, just with the girls and all the talent that's coming up. I think everybody is working extra hard, and they're just coming stronger and younger, right?

“Yes, I guess if I could be an example to them or a role model, that would be really great for me. Obviously I'm going to help them as much as I can if they need it.”

There are six Australians in the field this week – Green, Minjee Lee, Oh, Sarah Kemp, Katherine Kirk and Sarah Jane Smith.

Classical, old Aronimink, hosting its first women's major, presents quite a challenge. “There's a lot of long golf holes on this course, especially in the back nine, especially with the wind today, it's going to be a lot of hybrids, a lot of three woods, and the greens are tricky,’’ said Green.

Lee was third in the Women’s British Open, her equal-best result in a major. Today she admitted she had been “getting in my own way” during the bigger events, which is significant since she is widely regarded as the best player in the world not to have won one.

“I think I'm really motivated to play well,” said Lee. “Obviously this year we haven't been able to play too much, and just with the events that are happening, we're just really grateful for the opportunity to be able to play.

“I think I just got a little bit of extra motivation there, and I think when I'm a little bit behind after making the cut, then I just try to have a good score on the weekend just to maybe try and get into the top 10 and stuff like that. I think just being consistent I think is the main thing.” Women's PGA Championship tee times

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