TROON, SCOTLAND | So polished did the competitors look at last week’s Women’s Amateur at Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club that the R&A might have been tempted to strip the lot of them of their amateur status. Whatever, the girls certainly had the look of professionals – and not least in terms of fetching up-to-the-minute kit.
Some of the GB&I players will dive into the professional ranks on one side or other of the Curtis Cup, which is to be held in Conwy, Wales, on 26-28 August. Others, though, are off to college no matter what, with 17-year-old Hannah Darling heading for the University of South Carolina. The member of Broomieknowe Golf Club in Bonnyrigg, Scotland, is excited, but what she has going for her above all else is an enviably clear picture of what she wants from life and golf.
Plenty of people have told Darling she is “tour ready.” However, while she does not disagree her golf is good enough, she confesses to being short on life skills. With a disarming flash of honesty, she says she can no more turn on a washing machine than iron a shirt, though you have to suspect she would be a dab hand at both if she had the time.
Somehow, she finds the odd moment to keep up to speed with social media which she sees as “a good place to build your profile for the future.” But in keeping with what Pia Nilsson from Vision54 was saying a week ago about today’s golfing teenagers feeling under a ridiculous amount of pressure to be social influencers, she finds the whole business of social media “pretty toxic … I get my share of nasty comments. I’m not that well known, for heaven’s sake, and it amazes me that people take time out of their day to be nasty to me.”
Does she manage to ignore the remarks, or do the nastier ones keep her awake at night?
“I never reply,” Darling said, “and I certainly don’t let them keep me awake.”
Not only is Darling among those who refuse to be stressed out by social media, she is lucky enough not to be cursed with pushy parents. “There are a few out there all right, but my parents aren’t like that at all,” she says.
“It’s important to have something to fall back on. Who knows how things are going to pan out? I could get injured or I could fall out of love with the game. You have to think of these things.”
Starting with her father, an estate manager with the National Health Service, Darling says he has never said anything to leave her feeling, “I wish he hadn’t said that.”
Her mother, a midwife, is no different: “She might say to me, ‘I don’t think you should play this week,’ but, always, she leaves it to me to make the decision. And if I play and play badly, probably because I’ve been doing too much, she would never turn ’round and say, ‘What did I tell you?’ ”
Intriguingly, Iceland’s Jóhanna Lea Lúðvíksdóttir, who would have been the talk of Arctic circles for her week’s work finishing runner-up at Barassie, was saying the Icelandic Federation has become stricter when it comes to dealing with parents who go over the top.
“If, say, the girls notice that a particular father is making life tough for his daughter, they will follow instructions in going together to report the situation to the Federation,” she said. “It works really well.”
For one more lucky break, Darling has a guidance teacher at Lasswade High School in her hometown who has gone out of her way to ease her path.
“Lasswade High have never, as can happen at other schools, said that they have got better things to do than help me to play catch-up,” Darling said. “Quite the opposite in fact. Miss (Margaret) Muirhead, as the guidance teacher is called, saw that I was working hard at golf and at school and that was enough for her.”
Elaine Ratcliffe is another who would approve. On the day when Darling defeated England’s Hannah Screen at the 22nd hole to take her place in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Amateur, the Curtis Cup captain said: “I love how Hannah conducts herself on the course and, as for her golf, you can’t but admire the way she strikes the ball and the variety of shots she plays.”
Annika Sörenstam, who has her name on the same St Rule Trophy as Darling won this year, often has noted that there are no prizes in golf for being the youngest.
Darling was the youngest winner of the Scottish Junior championship when she won it for the first time at age 13. She was only 15 when she played in the 2019 Junior Solheim at Gleneagles where she halved a grand singles at the top of the line-up with Lucy Li, the Asian-American prodigy who, back in 2014, became the youngest qualifier for a US Women’s Open at age 11. Yet in spite of all the interest attaching to her early success, the Scot has never swayed from her original intention of taking one carefully considered step at a time. Typically, when it comes to university, her aim is to do a Michelle Wie West or a Leona Maguire in finishing her course.
“It’s important to have something to fall back on,” Darling says. “Who knows how things are going to pan out? I could get injured or I could fall out of love with the game. You have to think of these things.”
Top: Hannah Darling at the Women's Amateur Championship