Hyo Joo Kim, the mystery figure behind that all-embracing white mask, removed her disguise to collect the winner’s trophy at the HSBC Women’s World Championship today. It would have been some story had Hyo Joo turned out to be someone else but, all along, her glorious swing was giving the game away as she won by a shot from Australia’s Hannah Green.
Five behind at the start of the day, the 25 year old Hyo Joo closed with 64 to go to 17-under par. At that, all she could do was to wait and watch as the 24-year-old Green played her last two holes. (When, incidentally, she was asked why she hadn’t gone to the practice ground to prepare for a possible play-off, Hyu Joo explained, cheerfully, that her hunger had been a more important issue at the time.)
A couple of pars would have done the trick for Green. As it turned out, she left her first putt at the 17th woefully short and missed the ensuing eight-footer. Then, no doubt in a bid not to do the same again, she gave too much to her birdie attempt at the last, with the ball shooting crazily past the hole to pave the way for what was a bogey, bogey finish.
We could see Green’s emotions all right. Indeed, as against the hidden Kim, she looked horribly vulnerable. Having successfully steeled herself to stay on an even keel for the first 70 holes, she bit on her bottom lip after the mishap on the 17th and was patently shocked to the core as the next putting disaster unfurled.
There was good reason for Hyo Joo going about her business so heavily masked. “I have a severe sun allergy, and with this I don’t have to put on any sun cream,” she said. “Also it feels very easy to get prepared.” Though hers was a mask apart, a neurological scientist-cum-experimental psychologist, in a recent chat with the Guardian, suggested that a lot of people in the West had welcomed masks during the pandemic on the grounds that they could talk to themselves without anyone knowing.
Hyu Joo may well have been talking to herself today, though the over-riding impression was one of a girl staying within her own bubble while being oblivious to what was happening elsewhere in her golfing world.
She started golf at five, though not because her parents had set their hearts on having a golfing champion. Her father had enrolled her at a local nursery and, when she looked bored beyond belief, he decided instead to send her to a sports academy. There were several sports on offer and Mr Kim ticked golf.
At 19, she won the Evian after starting out with a believe-it-or-not 61. It was the lowest round in major championship history, men’s or women’s.
Her caddie that week, a Scot by name of Gordon Rowan whose day job had to do with women’s underwear in China, said that while Hyu Joo could not speak English and he could not speak Japanese, they still managed to communicate. “We do it with words, numbers and smiles,” he explained. He went on to outline his player’s main strengths which, as you would expect, mirrored those of this past week. “She stays calm and lucid and she keeps any frustrations under control. On top of that, she has a swing good enough to hold up under pressure.”
We couldn’t detect anything of this today, but in the course of her 61, she greeted each of her holed putts with ripples of disbelieving laughter.