Harriet Shephard catches up with recent LPGA winner and home favourite Georgia Hall ahead of the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic.
As her home country settles into another lockdown, Hampshire’s Georgia Hall is teeing off in the desert in the UAE.
But the threat of COVID-19 is still very real, even on the sun-drenched fairways of Dubai.
Just the day before the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic began, it was announced that Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, Wentworth player Annabel Dimmock and Finland’s Ursula Wikström had all tested positive and withdrawn from the event.
Life on Tour is certainly very different this year, and I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with 24-year-old Georgia, (via the magic of Zoom) after her practice round at Emirates Golf Club.
“I’ve been fortunate to play a lot and stay healthy, so hopefully that continues,” she began.
“The Ladies European Tour do a fantastic job of making sure we stay as safe as possible. We get tested before every event and before we even fly, they’re doing everything they can. Travelling does put us at risk but we know that, we don’t have to play and we can choose to stay at home if we want.”
She certainly didn't look stressed by all the uncertainty. Even on a laptop screen she appeared happy, healthy and in very high spirits.
But it's not like 2020 has been all bad for her at all. In fact, it was only just over a month ago that she secured a brilliant first win on US soil at the Portland Classic.
“One of my goals was to win the States this year,” she said grinning.
“That was very important to me and it gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year. I’d like to win again before the end of the year, that’s my next goal. So, we’ll see.”
But because of COVID and a busy schedule she perhaps didn’t quite get to celebrate the win as much as she would have liked.
“I had a week off in the US and then another LPGA event, so I didn’t really go out and celebrate. Not that I party anyway, but I would probably have gone shopping or something and treated myself. I was staying with Bronte Law and her caddy after so we just had a Diet Coke and stayed up chatting for a while.”
The event took place just as this summer’s wildfires in California and Oregon were starting to die out (2020 really has been a treat hasn’t it?). Canada’s Brooke Henderson pulled out of the tournament over safety fears and for a time many wondered if it would go ahead at all.
So it’s no wonder she fancied chilling out once it was over…
While it was obviously a brilliant week for her, I also imagine it must have been a bit scary.
“Yeah, it wasn’t great,” she admitted.
“They reduced it to three days instead of four and we couldn’t really have a proper practice round. We weren’t advised to go outside at all actually as the air quality was so bad. But on the last day it was perfect conditions, the smoke had cleared and we could see how beautiful the course was. It was lovely, it really is a pretty course. I’m so happy we got to see it like that.”
A week later England’s Mel Reid also won on the LPGA, and Georgia thinks British women’s golf is stronger than it has been in a long time.
“For the English girls to have back-to-back wins was very big. That hasn’t been done since 1996, it’s a massive step. Then of course we’ve got Charley (Hull), Bronte (Law), Jodi (Ewart Shadoff) and a lot of great players on the LET too. I think it’s going from strength to strength and we can all spur each other on because there’s a lot of us who are at a very good level.
She’s also in a good place personally, as well as professionally. Like many of the players, including Sophia Popov and Catriona Matthew, her other half, Harry, is her caddy.
As one of Georgia's 38,000 Instagram followers, and I had to tell her how lovely I think it is that she calls her boyfriend her ‘best friend’ in their many enviable snaps from around the world.
I remember a far younger Georgia telling me in 2016 that the worst thing about being a pro was all the travelling she had to do, but it seems that it’s a very different experience with her long-term boyfriend by her side.
“Travelling can be lonely,” she reflected.
“As I’m away so much it’s very important that I have someone on my team who I can trust and rely on. Especially during these times. We kind of switch off when we get back to the hotel and talk about things we’re going to do when we get home and well, food, mostly! His background is in golf and so he knows a lot about the game and it was very to introduce him to being my caddy.”
Playing under floodlights in a glamorous modern city like Dubai is a direct contrast to some of the windswept and historical courses of the UK, but Georgia enjoys both types of golf.
“I don’t mind playing in the wind and rain, I’m used to it. I love the Scottish and the British Opens. So I like both, home events I enjoy more for obvious reasons but like everyone else I do enjoy playing in the sunshine every now and again.”
She’s also just as thrown as most of us are by the decision to close English courses…
“I don’t understand why they are closing golf, I was really surprised to hear that,” she said.
“Golf is one of the few sports where you don’t need to be near anyone at all. You play your own ball, it’s outside and all those amateurs and pros at home, it’s part of their life. It’s a massive shame and I hope they will reopen soon.
“The fact that the petition got over 250,000 signatures shows how many people want to be out there, getting some fresh air, playing the sport they love. Which is extra important as we are going into another lockdown.”
As Women & Golf is turning 30 next year, I asked Georgia what she’d like to achieve before she turns the big three zero.
Having already won a Major, an LPGA event in the USA and been part of a winning Solheim Cup team, she’s already ticked off a fair bit. And she’s only 24…
“Six years is a long time, so I would love to get to World No.1, play in every Solheim and win every one with the team, basically just keep winning as many events as I can. I really enjoy coming back and playing in a few LET events every year as well. This is where I started my career after all.
The 2023 edition of the Solheim Cup will be held in Spain for the first time, but what I really want to know is does she think it will come to England next…
“It’s really great news that it’s in Spain, I’m sure the Spanish fans will be lots of fun. But to have a Solheim in England would be amazing, we have so many great players and fantastic golf courses, links courses and places like Wentworth or Sunningdale would be perfect. I'm hoping that the next one in Europe will be in England and hopefully if the world is back to normal all our British fans will be able to come out and support us.”
We’ve got our fingers crossed it happens too!
You can find out more about the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic HERE.