05 May 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 4: Hannah at Hazeltine
by Martin Blake
Here’s the thing about Hannah Green’s major championship win at Hazeltine National in Minnesota in 2019. It was not meant to be her.
At least, not under the script that had been scribbled down over the previous couple of years.
That it was Green who jumped up and became just the third Australian ever to win a women’s major is testament to the glorious uncertainty of sport.
Not only that; she did it magnificently, too, leading from start to finish in the Women’s PGA Championship.
Everyone (and perhaps, Green herself) would have expected Minjee Lee, Green’s Perth compatriot, to be the next Australian champion on the women’s side. Lee had enjoyed an incredible amateur career and by 2019 had won five times on the LPGA Tour as well, moving as high as No. 2 in the world. She was the one we were watching. As for Green, her best finish on the LPGA Tour had been a tie for seventh in the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.
The pair had been linked for a while: both from the junior programs of Golf WA, Lee from Royal Fremantle and Green from Mt Lawley, and both coached by Ritchie Smith. But Smith sometimes wondered whether Green really wanted to go on tour playing golf for a living.
Self-doubt was an issue, for both Lee and Victorian Su Oh always seemed to have her covered.
Not only that, she was lonely when she went out on tour, and her longtime boyfriend, pro golfer Jarryd Felton, was often elsewhere trying to make his living. Ultimately, Green worked out that she did want to be a golfer, and the rest is history.
A people person, she surrounded herself, travelling with her friend Oh and with Felton dropping in when their schedules allowed it. The week of the 2019 PGA, for instance, there was a house full of Australians with her in Minneapolis, including Karrie Webb, who had two Webb Scholarship players – Grace Kim and Becky Kay – in tow for the tournament.
All of these people would end up on the 72nd green on the Sunday celebrating a great national triumph.
Green played superbly and also had one of those weeks where the cards fell for her. In her first-round 68, she holed out from a bunker. On the second day she carded a 69 that included a 50-metre hole-out for par after she had found water. She was three shots ahead going into the weekend, but she was the proverbial sitting duck for the best players in the world.
Any pro will tell you it’s not easy to go wire-to-wire, but the Mt Lawley product held her nerve on the third day and entering the final round, still led by two shots. Of course, there would be much golf to be played from there.
On the Sunday, she made bogeys at the 11th and 12th that imperiled her, and the world No. 1 South Korean, Sung-Hyun Park, made a charge. At the 16th, Green made her crucial birdie, a left-to-right slider from five metres accompanied by a little fist pump. The lead was back to two, yet more was to be done.
The long-hitting Park birdied the last hole playing in the group ahead, posting eight-under. Reaching the 18th tee, the Australian knew she needed par to win outright. This was a task made all the more difficult when her six iron approach to the closing par-four turned over slightly and found the greenside trap on the left, short-sided.
It was no snack of an up-and-down, requiring the most delicate of bunker shots. But under the most pressure she’d ever experienced, she hit a cracking sand shot, stopping the ball just inside two metres from the flag. The putt fora the win dived into the cup and Hannah Green was a major champion – just the third Australian woman to reach that status behind Webb and Jan Stephenson.
She had posted a final-round 72 to go with 68-69-70 to earn a cheque for $US577,000 and give herself playing rights on the main tour for two more years.
Cue the celebrations on the green, with none other than Webb involved. “I feel like I won a golf tournament,’’ said the Wold Golf Hall of Famer. “This is one of the best days I’ve had at a golf course in a long time.’’
For a few years, Webb had talked up the group of players emerging to fill her place as the pre-eminent Australian as she passed into part-time tournament play. Green, for one, had been part of the scholarship group, spending time with Webb at a major tournament a couple of years earlier, and often exchanging phone calls and texts of encouragement.
On this day, it felt like the baton had finally passed.
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