Date: March 29, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

Nerveless WA guns up for major

You’d excuse Hannah Green for nerves before her first major championship.

You’d even give comparative veteran Minjee Lee the same leave pass based on her seemingly weekly flirts with contention that are expected by many to flow into this week’s ANA Inspiration.

But, as coach Ritchie Smith, on site at the famous Rancho Mirage course in California, will attest, neither would blow out a candle before the year’s first shot at golfing immortality.

The Perth pair are two of five Aussies in this week’s field, with Queenslanders Katherine Kirk and Sarah Jane Smith also qualified, alongside Melbourne’s Su Oh.

LPGA Tour rookie Green qualified for the event courtesy of her slashing start to the season with a T11 on debut in the Bahamas followed by a third place at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Adelaide to leave her still 26th in the season-long Race to the CME Globe standings.

And while she’s missed consecutive cuts since returning to the United States, Smith said Green was feeling right at home in the desert east of Los Angeles.

“It’s actually a really good place for Hannah to make her (major) debut because the course actually plays a bit like home,” Smith said.

“It will feel not unlike an Australian Open to her, actually, because it’s a bit of a bouncy course. The rough’s quite long and it’s playing pretty long, but the greens are just like Australia so she should be quite comfy, I hope.”

“But she’s very calm, just taking it as any other event.”

The same assessment came for Lee, who’s already up to 18th in the Globe standings based on a super consistent start to 2018 with a win at the Oates Vic Open, then three top-six finishes and a T26 last week on the LPGA Tour after a couple of weeks off.

“Minjee had that little time off and felt a bit rusty (last week) in the early rounds,” Smith said.

“But she closed well at the weekend, and now looks like she’s firing on all cylinders on the range.

“She looks to be going really well … just the same kid as she always is.”

The 21-year-old has been consistent in majors without that life-changing victory yet, with a best of third at this event last year behind the dramas of Lexi Thompson and eventual champion So Yeon Ryu.

But Smith is confident her time will come.

“She’s certainly been knocking on the door and I can’t quite put my finger on why she hasn’t (broken through) – maybe just a little tentative with her putter.

“But she’s striking it as well as ever and her short game the best it has been, so I think it’s a matter of time until she wins.

“Put it this way, she’s certainly capable of challenging in most events she plays.”