Tears Even at 3rd Place in the UK — Why Hinako Shibuno Melts the Fans’ Hearts
An urgent contribution by Kim Myeong-Uk, who conducted an exclusive interview with her
Is Hinako Shibuno just a player with “the goods” or is she a force to be reckoned with? At the AIG Women’s British Open, the final round of the women’s golf majors, expectations were high for her to win her first major since 2019, but she shot a par-71 on the final day to finish the tournament in third place at 9-under par.
The “Ups and Downs” of Humanity
The impact of Shibuno’s first victory in the tournament three years ago, when she was nicknamed “Smile Cinderella” and became a household name both in Japan and overseas, remains a strong memory. Her record of winning a major championship for the first time in 42 years, since Hisako Higuchi won the U.S. Women’s PGA Championship in 1977, also added to her career record.
Shibuno, who has been a full-fledged member of the U.S. Women’s Tour since this season, finished fourth in the Chevron Championship, the first major, and second in the following Lotte Championship, raising expectations that she would suddenly win the tournament despite being a newcomer to the U.S. Tour.
With results like these, it was natural to think, “Shibuno is going to do something. The fact that he gives the impression that he is going to win the championship makes the audience excited every time they watch him. There are not many athletes who have the aura of a star athlete, but Shibuno is definitely in that category.
However, just when you think you have achieved a good result, the bad ones keep coming. In fact, there were times when he failed to qualify for the third consecutive round and had to abandon the tournament, and there were even times when he cried because of the difficulty of the course, which he was playing for the first time, and the poor Poiana grass, which he is not good at.
It is not rude to say this, but it is because of these ups and downs that he is so anxious about the outcome of every match. Sometimes he speaks clearly with a carefree smile after a game, and other times he appears mysterious. Sometimes he cries, and I wonder if I am the only one who feels that these emotional ups and downs are also very human and likable.
The venue of the British Open, where Shibuno won his first major, was Woburn GC (Milton Keynes, England), not a links course by the sea. Most of the British courses are links courses, and there have been a few comments from those around me that the result might have been different if the event had been played on a links course.
In other words, the view was that it might have been a “fluke. In fact, he failed to qualify for the 2020 Links Championship at Royal Troon GC at 12 over. However, at the 2009 event at Carnoustie GL (Golf Links), he qualified and finished tied for 34th.
And at Muirfield, the links venue for this year’s British, he finished 3rd. He believed in what he had done, pushed forward, and got the results.
I don’t even want you to understand how I feel.
In order to win on the U.S. Tour, Shibuno sought to evolve rather than maintain the status quo, and he began to modify his swing. It is said that it takes three to four years for the improvement of one’s swing form to take hold as one’s own, even though he had tried many things during the gap between the COVID-19 crisis and now. However, as is the fate of star players, Shibuno has always been in a position to demand results.
Shibuno knew what was expected of him. Whether the change in swing form would prove to be a good thing or a bad thing could not be known until he tried it.
In fact, before coming to the United Kingdom in 2020, he had this to say.
There may be many opinions about what I’m doing now, but I don’t think it’s wrong.
She assured that she would never waver, no matter what those around her might say. When asked about her failure to qualify for the Earth Mondamin Cup, the opening round of the 2020 Japan Tour season, she said, “I said, ‘All the work I did in the off-season was for nothing,’ but now that I think about it, the results don’t always come immediately. But now that I think about it, I realize that the results will not come immediately .
He must have promised himself that he would take his time and not be in a hurry to get the results he wanted.
Even today, Shibuno’s every move is talked about, and he is praised when his results are good, while pessimistic articles are written when he fails to qualify. Shibuno has his own view on this, as he said in an interview in 2020.
I know there are many opinions out there, but I don’t expect people to understand my feelings, so I just have to believe in myself. I want those who understand me to understand what I am working on and how I really feel.”
He is a single-minded person who never wavers. Shibuno’s seriousness about competing on the U.S. Tour can be seen in the fact that he will go all the way with whatever he decides to do.
This is only his first year on the U.S. Tour. He is well aware that it is not good to expect too much in terms of results. Even so, expectations for Shibuno, who has shown signs of winning his second major, are not likely to be satisfied in the near future.
Reporting and writing： Myung-Woo Kim
Born in Osaka in 1977, Myung-Woo Kim is a Korean living in Japan. After working for a newspaper company, an editorial production company, and as a reporter for a golf magazine, he became a freelance writer. Currently, as a sportswriter, she covers mainly the J-League soccer team, national team games, and women's golf, and writes for a variety of media, including weekly magazines and sports websites. He is also an expert on South and North Korean sports. She has visited North Korea six times for on-the-spot reporting. Her recent books include "Lee Bo-mee: Aisareru Chikara (The Power to be Loved) - The Behavioral Philosophy (Method) of the Woman Golfer Most Loved by Japanese Golfers" (Kobunsha).