Golf

Winning the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship catapulted Hannah Green up the world rankings and into contention for the Tokyo Olympics. The rising star talks about her hunger for further success. By Linda Pearce.

LPGA world No. 22 Hannah Green

Perth-born golfer Hannah Green lines up a putt on her way to winning the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship.
Credit: Streeter Lecka / PGA of America via Getty Images

Hannah Green had driven her Mini Cooper to IKEA. Her mission? “Oh, just some storage boxes – nothing special,” the Women’s US PGA champion recalls of a shopping trip notable in a different way. Somewhere amid the rows of Swedish tubs Green was approached by an awkward stranger she presumed to be a fellow golfer. “He said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to bug you, but are you Hannah Green?’ and I said, ‘Ah, yes I am!’ ”

The encounter was a first for Green when wearing anonymous casual clothes rather than the golf gear in which she usually completes her errands after practising at home in Perth. “I’m not really bothered about getting swarmed at the shops. It usually doesn’t happen,” says the world No. 22, whose shock victory at Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club in June came when she was ranked 114th and had never finished higher than third in any LPGA tour event.

From nowhere, suddenly, the player who had long been overshadowed by contemporaries Minjee Lee and Su Oh was the third member of an exclusive club of Australian women to have won golf majors, joining her idol and mentor Karrie Webb and 1980s star – and famous calendar girl – Jan Stephenson. Yet there is something wonderfully unassuming about the 23-year-old, who escaped from a green-side bunker and sank a testing putt on the 18th hole to pip defending champion and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park by one stroke.

A Budweiser shower followed, courtesy of Webb and an ecstatic group that included two young amateurs on a week-long Karrie Webb Series Scholarship – four years after it was Green who had been flown in by the seven-time major winner to soak up such an experience. In a relaxed share house that was also home to her friend Oh and partner Jarryd Felton, the eve of the final round included an Aussie-themed barbecue of rissoles and potato bake.

Champion’s fuel, as it turned out, even if leading into the last 18 holes was not the pole position Green had expected. She had missed the cut in her final lead-up tournament and, through the early rounds, did not feel she was hitting the ball terribly well. “So it was just a big surprise to me – especially the first day, shooting four-under and then going into the media centre and having the press conference, I’d never done that in my life, so it was a little bit of a shock. Then backing it up with another good round and doing the same thing again. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I guess you just never know where it’s going to come from during the week.”

Or when unconventional help will arrive. While waiting to play the eighth hole, the West Australian was handed a poem by a seven-year-old fan, Lily Kostner, whom she had met two months earlier at a tournament in California. Green read the four-line message, then kept it in the back of her yardage book, pulling it out later in the day to help her relax. “It was probably the perfect way for me to switch off between shots,” she says. “I still have the note in my bedside table drawer – somewhere I won’t lose it, because it’s definitely something I want to keep forever.”

The story of the 72nd hole has been retold dozens of times: the nerves on the tee, the need to make par to avoid a playoff, the good lie in the bunker, the one-and-a-half-metre putt that was no gimme, the muted celebration. Green almost nonchalantly plucked her ball from the hole, before hugging caddie Nate Blasko, still not comprehending her achievement. That realisation did not arrive for several months, no matter how often the tale was recounted in the meantime. “I still didn’t really feel like I’d actually done it. It felt more like a fairytale than it did real life,” she says.

A crucial second title came in September at the Portland Classic, Green having drawn upon her PGA memories and experiences for a victory she considers almost as big as the first. “It was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I feel like I definitely belong, and that I can do this more than just once,’ ” she says. “I never would have thought I’d win two events in one year, on my second year on tour, so it’s definitely made me a lot hungrier for success and given me a lot more confidence. It’s obviously very easy to get big-headed and overconfident, but, for me, I feel like it’s been a really good thing. I don’t always show that I’m confident, so it’s kind of sparked that in me.”

The attention that has followed was all new to Green, too. As the news crews waited to film her arrival at Perth airport in June, she walked up casually behind the bank of cameras and reporters and said, “Sorry, are you guys looking for me?” Even the staff at her local orthodontic clinic follow their high-achieving patient’s results now. “They always know my whereabouts, and they always pretend they want something signed, which is lovely, and really cool.”

Soon after her return home came the offer of free AFL tickets to a Fremantle game, then a Manchester United versus Leeds soccer friendly. “Yeah, I’ve had a few little perks,” says Green, who – considering the $822,000 winner’s cheque – has fewer money concerns these days. She recently changed management companies, hoping IMG will negotiate new endorsements, but the financial pressure is off for now. “Oh, it was huge. Just to put myself higher on the money list, to secure my [tour] card for the next five years, but just to … be able to use my money as well as I can to make me my best, it’s really massive.”

Otherwise, the IKEA shopper sounds like quite a sensible type. Two weeks before the PGA, Green was in New York with Felton, a fellow pro, when she spotted a Givenchy handbag. “I said, ‘I want to buy this bag for my first win,’ and sure enough I win two weeks later… I still haven’t bought it so I’ve been very slack there,” she says, laughing. While the current focus is on this week’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide, there are plans for a far bigger investment some time soon: her first home.

A trophy cabinet is also on the shopping list, and although tennis No. 1 Ash Barty scooped all the sportswoman of the year gongs, the thrill for Green was just being nominated. The 2019 Greg Norman Medal for Australia’s golfer of the year award was hers, joining past winners Jason Day, Marc Leishman and the world No. 8 Minjee Lee. That bauble, plus the Women’s PGA trophy and Green’s other sports-related silverware, is being stored at her parents’ place. While dubious about the merits of golf as an Olympic sport, she is one of three women vying for what will probably be just two spots in Tokyo, where the quest will be for a medal of a different kind.

Precious, too, is time with Felton, as he prepares to play full-time on the European tour for the first time in five years. The couple enjoyed a rare tournament week together during this month’s Victorian Open at Barwon Heads. Felton tied for 22nd, and Green was equal 11th. She understands how difficult it must be for her partner’s career to have been cast in the shade by her own.

“Absolutely,” says Green. “I mean, if I was in the same sort of situation, I’m sure I would be jealous in some sort of way. In a healthy way. I’d obviously be so happy for him, but it would definitely take a toll.” Felton was there to share her first win at a major, which was important, the pair having met as juniors in their mid-teens. “I must have been 15 when we started dating,” says Green. “We definitely didn’t expect it, I guess – for us both to turn professional, or how things are panning out now.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 15, 2020 as "Green energy".

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Linda Pearce
is an award-winning freelance sportswriter, based in Melbourne.

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