Hannah Darling knew a place in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) championship was on the line when she teed it up in the final of last year’s R&A Girls’ Amateur Championship against Beth Coulter at Fulford.
The Broomieknowe Golf Club member just didn’t want to get too far ahead of herself.
“I knew most of the things that would come from winning the Girls, but when you’re playing you’re not really thing about the rewards,” Darling said. “The build-up that day was quite nerve wracking so there wasn’t much room to think about the fact it would get me to Augusta National. It was in the back of my mind, but I just tried not to think about it and focus on the match.”
The tactic worked. The Scot ran out a two-hole winner over her Irish counterpart last August to book her debut appearance at Augusta. She’ll fulfil a dream she’s held since she was a wee girl when she steps onto the hallowed turf of one of the world’s most iconic courses.
“I watched all the Masters growing up, but the one I definitely remember is Sergio Garcia winning (in 2017), that was special because he means so much to European golf,” said Darling, who is hoping to make a repeat appearance in this year’s Curtis Cup after selection to the squad for the June match at Merion. “Watching Tiger win was another great memory.
“It’s any golfers dream to go to Augusta, just because of the history. I’m looking forward to the drive down Magnolia Lane, and just taking everything in. I really can’t wait. It’s going to be amazing. It’s actually kind of hard to believe it’s really going to happen.”
Darling, currently the highest ranked British or Irish player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking® at 11th, feels she is better prepared for the challenge after spending the last few months at the University of South Carolina.
She began her college career last September, and has settled easily into college life. She finished second on her debut, was also second in the recent Valspar Augusta Invitational, and has three more top-seven finishes from her seven starts.
“I came here with good form, and the practice facilities here are fantastic and have allowed me to practise what I need to make my game better,” the 18-year-old added. “Obviously there were a few wee ups and downs settling in. Not seeing my coach Ian (Muir) face-to-face for long periods of time was hard to get used to, but I’ve adapted quite well.
Adapting to conditions
“I hadn’t played in America at all before college. I played in Canada a few times but once you get over here and play Bermuda grass, then anyone from Scotland or anywhere who is not quite used to it needs a while to adapt. It was a wee bit of a shock to the system to start with, but I got used to it quite quickly.
“It’s not quite the same as links golf because of the green complexes. You play a lot more lofted chips, and try to spin the ball a bit more to get it to stop a bit quicker. Playing out of wiry rough is difficult too. All those factors took a bit of getting used to but it’s been a great learning experience for me.”
That experience should prove invaluable for the challenge that is Augusta National.
Darling said, “I’m glad I’ve got a lot of college golf under my belt before I get to Augusta. Playing on the courses I’ve played means I’m definitely a lot better prepared now than I would have been last year.”