If Haley Moore was feeling a touch overwhelmed at the start of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open – she was out in 41 on Thursday before balancing the ledger with an inward 33 – it was entirely understandable. True, this shy soul was embarking on a tournament being held behind closed doors, but such were her achievements leading up to the Scottish trip that her name was on everyone's lips.
Word of that crucial 4-footer she made to win the 2018 NCAA Championship for the University of Arizona had reached Scotland long before. However, on 10 July of this year, she returned that believe-it-or-not 10-under-par 62 on the Cactus mini-tour to capture what was her third event on that circuit by nine shots. Moving on from there – to the first week in August to be precise – she was featured in the latest episode of the LPGA's powerful Drive On campaign.
Lydia Ko, in winning that honour at the previous time of asking, had matched up to the Kipling quote about meeting with triumph and adversity “and treating those two imposters just the same.” Moore, for her part, was being lauded for her handling of the bullying she knew both at school and in the amateur arena.
As anticipated, no-one in Scotland was focussing on Haley’s weight. All anyone wanted to see and hear was to do with her ballstriking.
Trish Johnson, a player with a fine pedigree on the LET and the LPGA besides being the owner of a senior major, was the first to give an opinion. “I have to say there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Hayley’s play,” she said. "I don’t think there’s been anyone other than Laura Davies with the same wealth of natural talent that she has, other than perhaps Ariya Jutanugarn. Among the men, she reminds me a bit of Shane Lowry. Her irons make the same deliciously crisp sound as his and, like Shane, she’s cut out for links play.”
“She’s got really good, soft hands, and then she’s got this wonderfully natural flow to her swing.”
Paul Wardell, the highly rated professional attached to the Renaissance Club, was another who had been itching to have his first look at the LPGA rookie. What struck him the most? Her hands.
“She’s got really good, soft hands, and then she’s got this wonderfully natural flow to her swing,” he said.
Away from her big hitting, Wardell had picked up on her feel for the little shots around the dipping and heaving greens. “I watched her hit a few chips and, straightaway, I could see that she had the right feel for the task. All the time, she was weighing up her options – and making a good job of it.” (When Moore came in from her first practice round, she was still savouring the way she had found the necessary check with her little bumps and runs to the flag.)
Plenty of golfing naturals have come to nothing because lovely ballstriking is rarely enough on its own. Moore, though, has the mental strength to complement her innate talent. In her case, it is surely linked to the way she came out on the right side of those battles with the bullies. Brought up to believe that what makes you different can make you stronger, she had in time become unmoved by “the taunts, the jokes and the mean little snickers and smiles.”
She could have dispatched those sad events to the memory bank when that side of her life took a turn for the better, first at college and then among the new friends she has made on tour. Instead, this “gentle giant,” as her mother once referred to her, has drawn on every one of those experiences in planning to establish a foundation for kids who have suffered as she did. “I have a powerful message for them,” she said.
When, last Tuesday, I asked her if a foundation is not a bit of a distraction for someone in her rookie season, Moore left me with the impression that it was something which mattered to her as much as golf itself. “I’ve never wanted to be wholly about the game,” she said.
“It’s great that Haley is doing what she’s doing,” said Johnson, who is convinced that she will be one to watch in the next few years.
“There’s bags of potential in that lass,” said Wardell.
In a week absent of shopping jaunts down Princes Street, all the competitors were happy enough to focus on Scotland’s greatest asset, its golf. Moore, for her part, was bowled over by what she had been learning of its rich history.
She made mention of the old stone walls around the Renaissance, a property where golf first was played in the mid-1800s and where feathery balls were uncovered during Tom Doak’s creation of the present links. Then she admitted to the excitement she had felt when, down by the water’s edge, someone had pointed out the furthermost reaches of the Firth of Forth and how St Andrews was tucked just around the corner. “I can’t wait to play there one day,” she said.
Plenty of the people who met Moore during the first couple of days – as she went through all the various testing protocols – commented, correctly, on her basic shyness. Yet there are entirely enough moments when the confidence she has in her golf shines through that shy surface.
It did precisely that when I asked her to nominate her shot of choice if she were given just one ball to hit in front of a crowd of thousands. She warmed to the task.
“It would be a drive,” she said, “and it would be the same as the shot I’ve just hit at the 18th. It went far and straight and bang down the middle.”
Way to go, as they say.
As to the Ladies Scottish Open, Moore responded to her uneven opening round by shooting 71 Friday to make the cut.
She is, indeed, one to watch.