Back in 2017, Hannah Darling flew to the Solheim Cup in Iowa along with five fellow Scottish girl golfers. The group was part of an official delegation that travelled to Des Moines ahead of the 2019 match at Gleneagles and the hosting baton being passed to Scotland.
As members of the Scottish Golf Performance Academy, the girls had been so energised by news of the clash coming to Gleneagles that they decided to create their own WhatsApp group to motivate one another to reach their collective goal of playing in the PING Junior Solheim Cup, also at Gleneagles and also in 2019.
They called their mission #Project19.
Little more than four years later, Darling not only successfully made that team – the only one of the six to do so – but is also one of the UK’s most exciting young golf prospects.
She served further notice of that last year when she played in the Curtis Cup and became the first Scottish winner of the R&A Girls Amateur Championship, earning a place in the field for this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Together with reigning Women’s Amateur champion Louise Duncan, Darling – currently ninth on the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking – will become the first Scot to play in the tournament. Suffice to say, the 19-year-old, currently in her first year at the University of South Carolina, is excited at the prospect.
Scratch that – very excited.
“It’s funny, I was on my way back to my apartment block from the gym when I saw a UPS van driving out of the campus,” she tells bunkered. “I’d received an email a few days earlier saying that my invite to the ANWA was in the post, so I ran straight to the mailroom. Sure enough, the invite was in there. I opened it up and pulled out this beautiful, green envelope. Yeah, I might have shed a tear or two.”
It would be easy to label Darling’s rise as meteoric but that’s precisely what it has been. In the space of a few years, she has gone from playing at Broomieknowe Golf Club in Bonnyrigg to pegging it up at Augusta National.
“It almost doesn’t feel real,” she says. “For years, I’ve sat in front of the TV watching The Masters with my dad. One Christmas, my parents got me a Masters DVD that was basically a history of Augusta National. I’m pinching myself that I’m going to get to play there. I never allowed myself to dream about it. That’s how impossible the idea of ever getting to play there felt to me. Now, though, it is possible and it is happening. It’s absolutely crazy.”
This year marks the third edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Ever since the club changed its membership constitution in 2012 to allow women to join, speculation had been intensifying that a Women’s Masters, contested by the game’s leading female professionals, might soon appear on the schedule.
Instead, the Green Jacket-wearers went one better, creating a new tournament for young female golfers at the start of their journeys in the game.
The inaugural ANWA took place in 2019, the week before The Masters, and resulted in America’s Jennifer Kupcho outdueling Maria Fassi of Mexico in a thrilling finale. The coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 tournament before Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan won last year in what ended up being a Japanese one-two at Augusta thanks to Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters triumph.
Darling, as one might reasonably expect, is keen to add her name to the event’s list of champions.
“That’s the goal,” she says. “I mean, yes, you want to go and enjoy the experience – and I will – but it’s a golf tournament at the end of the day and there’s a title to be won.”
Her parents are planning to fly out to cheer her on along with a few other friends and family, whilst several of her classmates have already intimated their intention to make the hour-and-a-half drive from Columbia to Augusta to lend their support. Inside the ropes, coach Ian Muir will pull on the famous white overalls to caddie for his star pupil.
“It seemed pretty fitting to ask him,” said Darling. “He’s been such a massive support to me from the very start and I have no doubt he’ll help to keep me calm. He’s like me, a bit emotional, so I imagine we’ll go through a few packets of tissues during the week!”
— Hannah (@Hannahgolfer13) January 13, 2022
Whatever the outcome, Darling’s place in the history books is assured as the first Scot – alongside Duncan – to play in the tournament.
“That’s really cool,” she nods. “I’m so excited and so grateful for that opportunity and I can almost guarantee you right now that we’ll be the first of many. The female side of Scottish golf is in a really good place right now and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of us next year.”
When Darling thinks of Augusta, she almost always thinks of the play-off between Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia in 2017 which resulted in the latter winning his long-awaited first major. So, too, Tiger’s remarkable victory in 2019. The idea that she’s going to get to follow in their spikemarks blows her mind.
“It’s hard to comprehend that I’m going to be there, playing the same course as them,” she adds. “Everything about the place is so special. The history, the course, the traditions. It’s not a golf club and The Masters and Augusta National Women’s Amateur are not just golf tournaments. They are so much more than that. They mean so much more than that. There’s a lot of things that come together to make them what they are.
“So, yeah. Bring it on.”
• The 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur takes place at Champions Retreat Golf Club and Augusta National Golf Club from March 30 to April 2.
Get more like this!
This feature first appeared in issue 191 of bunkered (Feb’ 2022). For our latest great subscription offer, click here. International subscriptions also available.