by AFP/ pic by AFP
TOKYO – Japan on Monday hailed a fairytale finish for Hinako Shibuno (picture), the 20-year-old golf sensation known as ‘Smiling Cinderella’ who was crowned the surprise winner at the 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?” he said in his morning show on a private TV network.
Shibuno’s win at her first Major dominated morning television shows in Japan on Monday, topping news items. The story broke too late for the front pages of Japan’s newspapers, but was splashed across their websites.
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!” tweeted one Japanese user. “A historic achievement,” another wrote.
On Japanese television, Higuchi said Shibuno looked as “relaxed” as if she were playing in Japan.
“She is a new kind of player,” the Daily Sports newspaper quoted Higuchi as saying.
Shibuno hit a gutsy 18-foot birdie putt at the final hole to seal victory at Woburn on Sunday, finishing with a 68 and 18-under-par as she beat American Lizette Salas by a single stroke.
South Korea’s world number one Ko Jin-young, who was seeking her third Major title of the year, had to settle for third place following a 66.
Jun Sato, chief of the golf club where Shibuno practised until she graduated from high school, told the Mainichi Shimbun 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.
But 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 she planned to celebrate her historic victory by indulging her cravings.
“I want to buy as many snacks as I can eat,” Kyodo news quoted her as saying.