Georgia Hall's rags to riches tale is one of sacrifice and money troubles which threatened to end her golf career before it had even begun. The fact she's now the poster girl of ladies golf, at just 22*, makes her journey all the more remarkable.
[ Update: Georgia turned 23 on the 12th April ]
Georgia Hall has always been different from the norm. She used to play golf to win chocolate bars, and is so superstitious that she has to hole a six-footer before marching to the first tee. It's one of the many endearing, if not bizarre, traits which saw 16,000 fans come out to support her as she stunned the world of golf to clinch her first LPGA Tour title at the Women's British Open.
It was, as Ken Brown called it, "a Cinderella story." But those who know her were not nearly as surprised. Many speak of a happy-go-lucky girl who has dedicated her life to get where she is today. She once cut 26 shots off her handicap in 12 months and broke the course record at her home club of Ferndown, aged 12.
Success continued into her teenage years where she won the British Girls and British Amateur, and then last summer when she became the first player in history to complete the triple crown by adding the Women's British Open. It's one of the many accolades she walked away with in 2018, including the LET Order of Merit and Players' Player of the Year, which she first won 12 months earlier.
Hall makes light of the suggestion that she's already won more at the age of 22 than most professional golfers manage in a lifetime, and is just thankful that the sacrifices she and her parents made have been vindicated.
She recalls how her golf-mad dad, Wayne, a plasterer by trade, was forced to sell his golf clubs to fund one golf trip, while she would miss birthday parties, proms and parts of her childhood to go and practice. Money troubles were a recurring issue, and meant there were no holidays between the ages of six and 21. She even had to delay turning pro in 2014 while she fought to secure a sponsor.
"Growing up, money was sometimes tight and I missed three Majors as an amateur I qualified for," she told us. "But dad and I always said that if my golf's good enough, then it can take me anywhere regardless of how much money we have."
It was fitting, then, that Wayne was the one carrying her bag at Royal Lytham & St Annes while she set about plastering her own name across the back page of every newspaper. It did mean that she had to break the news to her boyfriend and regular caddie, Harry Tyrrell, which surely made for an awkward discussion. She says not, and prefers to turn the conversation towards the teary celebrations and the thousands of fans who serenaded her to chants of "Georgia! Georgia!"
"That almost made me happier than holing the winning putt", she admits. "There were so many little girls running up to me, asking for a picture, and I think that's really good to see."
The fanfare remains just as strong even now, and when word spreads that we are with Georgia at Golf at Goodwood, where she is an ambassador, members start scuttling between the first tee and clubhouse, trying to clock eyes on golf's new poster girl.
"I feel like a big deal," she says, blissfully unaware that that's exactly what she is.
Has it sunk in yet the enormity of what you've managed to achieve at such a young age?
Probably not. I mean, my second half of the season was pretty much exactly how I would always want it to go. But Lytham was just crazy, and the reaction since... People are still stopping me in the street, saying congratulations. The other day, I was at a car dealership when a man came up to me and said 'I shook hands with Nick Faldo, I'm going to shake hands with you now. Congratulations.' That was pretty cool.
What was it like seeing the $490,000 winner's prize in your bank account for the first time?
It was nice, obviously, but I was more happy that I won the British. When I started as a seven year old, I just wanted to play golf. The money does make your life a lot easier, but I haven't done a lot with it. I bought a ring, but it's more of a reminder of what I did at The Open. If I ever have children, I can then pass it down to them. Not that I'm thinking of having any, any time soon!
Did you ever expect to win a Major, become European No.1 and play in the Solheim Cup so early in your career?
I try not to think about my age or put extra pressure on myself. I have done a lot already, but there's still loads more I'd like to achieve. I want to become World No.1, win more Majors and British Opens, and I'd love to play in more Solheim Cups. That was really special for me; it was such an amazing experience last time. It meant a lot that Annika (Sorenstam) wanted me to play five out of five. When I heard she was captain, I immediately thought this is the team I want to play in because she was such a big role model of mine growing up.
What are some of your earliest memories of playing golf?
I started playing at the age of seven. My dad used to play so after school we'd go down to the range and hit some balls. I remember I would go to a kids' clubs at the weekend. At the end, there was always a competition to win a chocolate bar. That was the reason why I went really. I won five Snickers one day and ate them all in one go. Another time, there was eight competitions in an hour's lesson, just before Christmas, and I won six. I got home and gave one to each of my family.
When did you first realise that you might be able to forge a career out of golf?
I got my first handicap – 36 – at the age of nine and then in the space of one year, I got it down by 26 shots. So I was 10, playing off 10. That's when I thought I could be quite good at this sport. That was a bit crazy.
How dedicated did you have to be to get where you are today?
When I was at school, I used to play other sports, but then I had to give them up and devote more time to golf. When I was 14, I used to go to school for three hours in the morning, and then in the afternoon I'd go and play golf. I was happy to leave early, but there were quite a lot of sacrifices I had to make. I didn't go to many birthday parties and didn't really see my friends. I was concentrating on golf but I would never change it. I loved playing golf and still do. Now I'm able to see friends and family on my weeks' off so I'm making up for lost time. I think when you're growing up, that's the most important time to find your swing and discover what you really enjoy doing. I'm happy with how everything turned out.
How many times did you imagine holing that putt?
Loads. I always had that six-footer to win, so it was a bit surreal to do it for real. I remember being really nervous on the Saturday, the first nine especially, and that's when it actually started sinking in that I could do well. But come Sunday, I wasn't nervous at all and just kept saying to myself, 'this is what you've been waiting for and you may only get one chance to win this, so don't let it slip away'. I played really well and it was only on the last hole when the nerves did reappear. I was only concentrating on making contact with the golf ball. What helped was seeing so many people supporting me. I wanted to do well for them, more than anything, because I knew they were all behind me.
Did the size of the crowds following surprise you?
Yeah, it was crazy. It was so nice to see, and it meant so much that all those people wanted me to do well, and liked me as a person. There were thousands just shouting my name.
Was it extra special having your dad on the bag?
It was amazing because he's been there every step of the way. When I was an amateur, he would drive me everywhere and take me to all the tournaments. Occasionally my mum would come, but generally she looked after my brother and sister and it was just me and my dad. Without him, I would never have picked up a golf club probably or been able to do what I've done.
Even so, was it difficult benching your boyfriend, who's also your regular caddie?
Harry knew quite early in the year that I wanted my dad on the bag. For the last three years, my dad's done the British and Scottish [Open] and it's kind of like a tradition now, so he was fine about it. He walked round with my mum and had good chats about me I think. The fact they were all there was the most important thing.
Would you ever consider using a pro caddie?
Not really. I've grown up doing it all myself. I do all the yardages – Harry does some as well – but I always make sure I have a [yardage] book. It helps me think more and I like to make my own decisions. I don't really like anyone else giving theirs and I think there would be a conflict. If my boyfriend didn't caddie, I would probably have a friend or a family member carrying my bag. The most important thing about a caddie is getting on well with them, and knowing that they want you to do well from the heart. That's what I appreciate the most.
What's it been like having Harry on your bag? Have you ever had any disagreements?
I think we had a couple at the start, because we were learning how each other works, but this year we haven't had any. I'm pretty calm anyway so we work well. It probably helps that he used to be a pro; he coached at a golf club in Surrey. We met and then he quit his job and started travelling the world with me. We probably wouldn't see each other much if he hadn't.
In the days leading up to the Women's British Open, you were spotted picking the brains of Ken Brown. Has he become something of a mentor to you?
I actually went shopping with his daughter-in-law yesterday. I'm getting quite close to the family. The week of the British Open, we had dinner together. He's such a lovely person. He messages me quite a lot when I'm doing well and is always there for me. I do think very highly of him. He's a lot of fun and is always laughing about something. He's crazy about golf and to have that person around you is really useful.
How much do you value speaking to and surrounding yourself with legends of the game?
I think it's really important. Last year, I played in the [Berenberg] Gary Player Invitational and got paired with Gary. He gave me so many tips on the short game, and how I should take a pad out with me and write down how many times I get up and down from 100 yards. This year, I got lucky again and played with Tom Lehman. That was just a week and a half before I won the British. I told him it was at Royal Lytham and that's when he told me that's where he won the year I was born. I asked, 'have you got any tips for me?' He said, 'lay up short of the bunkers' and I think I only went in one fairway bunker all week. I rang him the day after I won The Open and he was so happy for me. I'm going to stay at his house next year.
You're one of the few players who rarely works with a coach on tour. Why is that?
I like to keep things quite simple and natural. So, if I'm hitting the ball straight, I won't bother. There was a period where I didn't see my coach for six or seven months because I was playing so well. But if I do need help, I'll go and see Dan Grieve at Woburn [Golf Club]. He's been my coach for about three and a half years. I see him once every few months, and only for an hour or two. I've never actually seen a coach that much, even growing up, because I'm not very technical. I think about one or two things in my swing, that's about it. I kind of go on how I feel. When I'm out on tour, it's usually just me, my caddie and my mum.
Has having that tight knit group made it easier competing across two tours?
At the start, it was a little tough with the travelling and I wasn't used to playing that much golf. But the second half of the season was amazing. I've met some really good friends and I actually love the travelling now. I don't like being at home for too long. You get to play for some really big prizes, which makes it a lot more enjoyable.
Was that the primary motivation behind playing on the LPGA Tour for the first time last season?
There's hardly been any tournaments, so I had to move over there. The LPGA have about 28 events and I want to play more golf. The European Tour just didn't have enough events this year. I do try to support it when I can. It's my proper home but I think the LPGA will be where I'm based now, possibly for the rest of my career.
Have you set yourself any goals for 2019?
In my head, yes. Playing in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles is a big aim for me. I'm in a good position in the rankings, but I'd like to get another win at least and hopefully do well in the Majors. Off the course, I'd like to inspire more girls and juniors to play golf in the future. That's more of a long-term thing. I've already hosted a little clinic here [at Goodwood] for the kids, hitting shots with them and giving them tips. Between tournaments and in the off-season, hopefully I will have more time to do that and give something back.