HOUSTON • Hinako Shibuno said on Saturday she is learning to live with the overnight celebrity she gained after coming from nowhere to win last year’s Women’s British Open in her first LPGA event.
The Japanese, who is known for her solid all-round game and magnetic personality, was dubbed the “Smiling Cinderella” after her breakthrough victory, which catapulted her to fame in her country and beyond.
The 22-year-old said the attention that came from her TV appearances has not impacted her play but did require an adjustment on a personal level.
“Appearing on the TV shows and stuff like that does not affect my golf performance at all,” she said after the third round of the US Women’s Open, where she held a one stroke lead. She had carded a third-round three-over 74 to finish four-under 209.
“However, once I became a celebrity, and (with) celebrity status, it makes it difficult to be myself. So just recently I was able to get rid of my shell, so to speak, so that I can be myself again.”
The lack of attention might actually have been hindering her at the year’s final Major, where no fans are allowed at Houston’s Champions Golf Club due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I won the Major, there was a large number of people out in front of me because of the audience. That gave me power and it’s easy for me to get the momentum as well. Now there’s no people, no audience and it’s very difficult for me to get any momentum, because when I get a run of birdies, when I get the birdie, it’s silence.”
If she can hold on for the win, it will be anything but silent in Japan and she can expect the spotlight to intensify. Aside from Shibuno, the only Japanese to win a Major was Hisako “Chako” Higuchi in 1977.
The world No. 16 led American Amy Olson (71) by a stroke after 54 holes. South Korean Kim Ji-yeong (67) and Thai Moriya Jutanugarn (72) are a further three shots back.