Japan yesterday hailed a fairy-tale finish for Hinako Shibuno, the 20-year-old golf sensation known as “Smiling Cinderella” who was crowned the winner at the Women’s British Open.
“She did it!” said TV presenter Tomoaki Ogura after Shibuno, in her debut tournament overseas, became Japan’s first Major winner in 42 years.
“Who expected she could do this much in her first competition abroad, a Major championship?” Ogura said in his morning show on a private TV network.
Shibuno’s win at her first Major dominated morning television shows in Japan, topping news items. The story broke too late for the front pages of Japan’s newspapers, but was splashed across their Web sites.
Despite the huge popularity of golf in Japan, only one Japanese player — male or female — had previously won a Major: Chako Higuchi at the 1977 Women’s PGA Championship.
Social media was abuzz with congratulations for the 20-year-old Shibuno, who only turned pro last year.
“A star is born!” one Japanese user tweeted.
“A historic achievement,” another wrote.
On Japanese television, Higuchi said Shibuno looked as “relaxed” as if she were playing in Japan.
Shibuno hit a gutsy 18-foot birdie putt at the final hole to seal victory at Woburn on Sunday, finishing at 18-under-par overall after a fourth-round 68 as she beat Lizette Salas of the US by a single stroke.
South Korea’s world No. 1 Ko Jin-young was third following a 66 to finish at 16-under for the tournament. Taiwan’s Teresa Lu (seven-under) finished in a share of 16th, while Hsu Wei-ling missed the cut with scores of 76 and 73.
Jun Sato, chief of the golf club where Shibuno practised until she graduated from high school, told the Web site of the Mainichi Shimbun that he was elated by the victory.
“I don’t just feel happy, I feel superb!” he said.
Shibuno herself seemed overwhelmed by the victory.
“I didn’t feel that nervous when I was on the last putt,” she told reporters.
However, after the win “I was just covered in goosebumps and I feel so tense now I just don’t know what to say,” she said.
Additional reporting by staff writer
AP, GREENSBORO, North Carolina
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