Hannah Darling savours 'an experience of lifetime' playing Augusta National
It was a rare day when the score didn’t really matter to Hannah Darling. She was playing Augusta National, after all, creating history in the process as the first Scottish woman to compete at the Georgia venue.
Of course, the 18-year-old from Broomieknowe, Bonnyrigg, was looking for better than her seven-over-par 79 in the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, but the number was not the be all and end all this time.
Darling and West Kilbride’s Louise Duncan, the Girls’ Amateur and Women’s Amateur champions respectively, had become the first Scots to compete in the event in its third edition.
Duncan did not make the 30 to progress after two rounds at Champions Retreat in Augusta, but it was mission accomplished for Darling, as she finished the week playing in front of 40,000 fans.
“It’s been an experience of a lifetime – 100 per cent – and that’s the only way to describe it,” she said afterwards. “This tournament is fantastic. It was great getting to play Champions Retreat, which is better than the courses we play most of the time, then to come here is just incredible and I thank everyone who gave me the opportunity.”
Five shots off the lead after opening rounds of 73-76, there was a distinct chill in the air as the starter, announcing the third group out, said: “Fore please, Hannah Darling driving.”
Watched by a crowd that included R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and USGA chief executive Michael Whan, Darling hit the perfect drive then found the heart of the green with an equally solid approach that was greeted by “great shot” from an American voice.
But, after leaving her first attempt six feet short, she three-putted and that, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of her round. In contrast, her playing partner, American Rachel Kuehn, got up and down to save par at the opening hole and went on to sign for a 69, to finish in the top 10.
“Just didn’t get the pace from the start of the day,” declared Darling, who rallied from being five-over after six to pick up three birdies in six holes around the turn, before dropping four shots in the last four.
Finishing with a 12-over 228 total, she ended up in a tie for 27th out of 72 players and, although hoping for better, there was no reason whatsoever for the young Scot to feel down in the dumps.
“I didn’t feel I hit the ball too badly and didn’t do anything really bad, but just kept three-putting due to not getting the pace,” added Darling, the world number 11 who is a freshman at the University of South Carolina.
“If I had parred the first, then I could have been standing here in a different position, but there are always ifs and buts and, overall, I’ve enjoyed the experience.
“Playing around Augusta, I don’t think it really matters what you shoot as you have still played it and I hadn’t played here before, other than the practice round on Friday.”
In a dramatic finish, 16-year-old American Anna Davis claimed the title, signing off with 69 to finish a shot ahead of compatriot Latanna Stone, who led by two with two play before going double bogey-bogey, and Swede Ingrid Lindblad.