Charley Hull gets first pro victory at age 17
With all due respect to Sunday's other winners, the potentially most significant victory of the weekend came courtesy of 17-year-old Charley Hull at the Lalla Meryem Cup on the Ladies European Tour. Hull, who will turn 18 this coming Thursday, is probably best known here in the United States as the youngster who demolished Paula Creamer in singles at the 2013 Solheim Cup and then asked her for an autograph.
She is fun and fearless, outgoing and relentless, and with this big step is now a legitimate candidate for the "next big thing" in women's golf. And with any luck, we'll soon be seeing a lot more of her here in the United States.
Hull was born in Kettering, England, took up the game at the age of 5 and quickly became a dominant junior player, winning the UK National Ladies Championship at age 9. In 2012, she made the cut in five pro tournaments including the Kraft Nabisco Championship, reached No. 3 in the world amateur ranking, and was a key player on the victorious Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup team. She then turned pro at 16, and played her way on the 2013 Ladies European Tour.
In her first LET season, she became the rookie of the year and, at 17, the youngest player in Soheim Cup history as Europe won the cup on American soil for the first time. She played her first LET event exactly a year ago at the 2013 Lalla Meryem Cup, and her runner-up result there was the first of five straight second-place finishes. She went on to rack up 10 top-10 finishes in 15 starts – and now she has a victory.
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She earned that first pro trophy on Sunday by closing with a career-low 9-under 62 to tie French veteran Gwladys Nocera after the regulation 72 holes. Hull, who began the final round five shots behind Nocera, returned to the 190-yard, par-3 18th hole for the sudden-death playoff, hit her tee shot to four feet and sank her birdie putt for the win.
Hull's victory isn't likely to materially change her plans to play her way onto LPGA Tour via sponsor exemptions this season – she already is spending her winters in Florida. She can accept as many as six exemptions into regular LPGA Tour events, and can try to qualify for other tournaments such as the U.S. Women's Open as she pursues a global schedule.
With Hull joining the teenaged winners' club alongside her fellow rising stars including Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, the future of the women's pro game looks extremely bright. The only shame is that we don't get to see all the young talent emerging from all corners of the globe in action nearly often enough.
ONE FINAL NOTE: Each year, the LET plays its Lalla Meryem Cup event in Agadir, Morocco, the same week that the European Tour plays its Hassan II Trophy there. The events – both of which get a big boost from the Moroccan government – are played simultaneously but on different courses, and the winners get together to celebrate their victories. It's a fascinating concept, and I'd love to see the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour find a suitable city and give it a try sometime.
While you're pondering that, check out Charley's post-victory interview: