The 2019 renewal of the women’s British Open took place at Woburn Golf Club near Milton Keynes between 1 and 4 August. It was an event that was met with much anticipation with the biggest names in the sport laying claim to an increased prize pot that was bigger than it had ever been in an attempt to narrow the gap between the men and ladies’ games.
This year’s competition was the 43rd British Open and the 19th as a major championship on the LPGA Tour. With a number of different venues playing host over the years, there was an air of familiarity about this one as we returned to Woburn Golf Club for the 11th time, meaning many players in the field had an idea of what to expect. That allowed them to get down to business and set about winning this world-famous competition.
Bookies Extend their Coverage
Major bookmakers have increased their coverage of women’s golf in recent times, as have respected television stations and that meant punters had dozens of exciting betting markets to choose from. Backers were able to get their cash down on the outright winner before a club had been swung or they could play one of the many specials, including first-round leader, top 10 finish, to make the cut and plenty more besides. There was even in-play betting that meant a gamble on the outcome was as exciting in the final few holes as it was before the start.
Traders had their say and we found many of the usual suspects placed near the head of the outright market. Golfers from Asian countries have a fine reputation in this tournament and that was obvious in the betting with players from that part of the world contesting favouritism. What we got, when the competition was settled and talking stopped was a surprise result and there weren’t too many punters celebrating a winner.
Shibuno Makes Headlines
Japan’s Hinako Shibuno came out on top despite this being her first tournament outside of her homeland and her first major, no less. Many experts predicted the 20-year-old rising star from Okayama, standing at just 5ft 5inches tall, was in the UK simply to make up the numbers and gain a bit of top-level experience, but Shibuno obviously hadn’t read the script, defying betting odds to claim her place in the history books.
By winning the UK Open, Hinako joined an exclusive list of champions but those who have claimed their first LPGA majors win at the British Open is smaller still. In claiming the prize money Shibuno sent out a message to the rest of the sport. She timed her arrival at the top level of women’s golf to perfection and it would come as no surprise to see her go on and add more majors in future, including more British Opens. She was written off by the betting, pundits and even golf followers but one thing’s for sure, she’ll be afforded the respect she deserves next year when returning to defend her prize. The 2020 British Open takes place at Royal Troon for the first time and that setting proves how far women’s golf has come in such a short space of time.
Dubbed the Smiling Cinderella, Hinako Shibuno lived up to her nickname when rounding off what was a fairytale weekend for the player. Not only did she defy the expectations of just about every so-called expert, but she also did it in style by sinking a jaw-dropping birdie putt at the final hole to confirm her championship. Her doubters were forced to look on in silent admiration, but her round of golf was so enjoyable even those who were quick to write her off were only too happy to give their new champion the credit she deserved.
A player known for her radiant smile and love for the game, she plays like a woman who enjoys every shot and that has won her many new fans. A grin is never far from her face, even when under pressure, but she certainly had plenty to smile about at Milton Keynes on Sunday afternoon. She was always completely confident in her ability to contest the trophy and after hitting the front it was that unwavering self-belief and confidence that helped her cross the line. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world when things got tense in the final few holes and the champion had what it takes top stick to her game, beating runner up Lizette Salas of America by a single stroke. The silver medallist was favourite to show her rivals the way home in play but those who continued to ignore the form of Hinako Shibuno were made to pay the price.
It’s not a mistake they will make again in a hurry but those who back the champion in upcoming events will have to make do with shorter odds as traders react to that British Open win. You’ll find her near the head of the betting for the remainder of this year and with bookies having had their fingers burnt that will come as no real surprise to those who follow women’s golf and betting in general. Having said that, Hanako’s inexperience and youth means you’ll still get decent double-figure odds most weeks, which shouldn’t be sniffed at.
Hinako Shibuno’s success didn’t just do wonders for her own career, it was also noted as a real morale victory for women’s golf in Japan as their champion was just second Japanese player to win a major. The other was Hisako ‘Chako’ Higuchi but even that came back in 1977, proving the significance of Sunday’s result in England. We’re sure it won’t be another 42-year wait for a Japanese champion and that will, surely, be down to the talents of Shibuno. She has a big future ahead of her and that signature smile will be visible on greens across the world this year and beyond.
Stats Prove to be Deceiving
The stats of Hinako Shibuno show exactly why she wasn’t fancied by the traders to win the British Open this summer. She travelled to the venue having won just three times in the past, never in a major, with those victories split between the Japan Tour and Ladies European Tour. Her performances in majors was nothing short of abysmal, failing to place in the ANA Inspiration, Women’s PGA Championship, US Women’s Open and the Evian Championship. It was little wonder there wasn’t a lot of financial interest in her winning the British Open and breaking that woeful run.
The champion made a strong start, ending second on day one with a decent score of 66 leaving her six under par and one shot off leader Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa and tied with American Danielle Kang. Hinako Shibuno held her ground and remained in second place at the end of day two, her score moved to nine under, following that 66 with a 69 that was more than enough to keep her in the running. That was achieved despite a number of the other fast starters falling off the pace.
Saturday was the third day of play and the first time she hit the front. Those who expected the rookie to come unstuck when push came to shove got a shock when seeing her go to 14 under par, the scorecards reading 66, 69 and 67. That placed her two shots ahead of Ashleigh Buhai who refused to go away and it was only then the doubters started to thing they may have gone against the wrong girl this year.
Timed to Perfection
That was proven beyond all doubt on Sunday when Hinako Shibuno completed her tournament with a card showing 68, moving her outright score to -18 and 270. More than enough to hold off the fast-finishing Lizette Salas who pushed her all the way to the line, scoring 17 under par. The other names in the frame on the final day were Ko Jin-Young of South Korea who scored -16, America’s Morgan Pressel on -15 and Ashleigh Buhai who dropped off the pace to post -14. The latter looked to have every chance heading into the final day but made mistakes down the home straight and was left thinking what might’ve been with a little more composure in her game.
It seemed like Hinako Shibuno timed her first major to perfection as all the talk in the build up to this year’s British Open centred around the increase in prize money. The champion was awarded a cheque for 675,000USD, a significant increase on what was paid to last year’s victor. Runner up Lizette Salas was paid 409,838 with third-place finisher Ko Jin-Young banking 297,309.
It’s unlikely the women’s prize will be equal to that of the British Open men’s champion but the gap is closing all the time and followers will see this as a step in the right direction and a victory for both women’s sport in this country and, of course, for common sense.