Jiyai Shin will step on the Old Course at just before mid-day tomorrow determined to defend the title at what is her favourite championship of the whole year.
The 25 year-old from South Korea carded rounds of 71, 64, 71, 73 to claim a record nine shot victory over compatriot Inbee Park at last year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool and it was an experience which strengthened her love affair with a Championship which was crystalized when she won it for the first time at Sunningdale four years before.
“I just love this tournament”, Shin said as she counted down the hours until her 11.48 start tomorrow in the company of America’s Morgan Pressel and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew. “It’s my favourite tournament and my win last year was the greatest experience of my life so far.
“I’m really happy to play at St Andrews,” she added. “I’m always happy to play in this tournament and it’s even more special when it comes to the Home of Golf.
“This week I’ve taken hundreds of pictures on the golf course but now I feel I’m ready to play. I’m not really worried if the weather is bad because I proved I can (handle that). I just want to stay patient and keep focussed on the job.”
Shin was one of many leading players who has arrived in St Andrews somewhat under the radar thanks to the exploits of Park, who is bidding for the Grand Slam this week having won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the Wegmans LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open to date this season.
Matthew is another player who finds herself in the same position, despite having won the title at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2009, and in spite of the fact she is on a fine run of form that has seen her lose to Park in a play-off at the Wegmans LPGA, finish tied 15th at the US Women’s Open and third at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic during her last four starts.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said the 42 year-old mother of two from North Berwick. “I’ve played well in all the Majors this year and it’s nice to be back in St Andrews. I think it’s just the vibe of the place. It don’t think it matters when you come to play it, whether it’s January or July, there’s always people around 18, the atmosphere is always the same.
Matthew has been plying her trade as a Tour professional for almost 20 years she has no doubt competition is now more intense on the world Tours than at any time during that period.
“This is my 19th year on Tour and on the LET and the LPGA the standard and depth has increased dramatically from when I first started,” she said. “When I started, there were maybe 30 people each week who could win, but now I would say just about everyone who is teeing up has a chance of winning.
“If you don’t keep improving, you’re going to be off the Tour, so it kind of spurs you on.”
The Scottish No. 1 is under no illusion that Park will be the player to beat when the action gets underway at 6.30 tomorrow and, as the World No. 1 is out at 7.03 in the company of England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Spain’s Beatriz Recari, she has an early opportunity to make a mark.
“For women’s golf, it would be fantastic if she (Park) won but obviously we are going to be out there trying to stop her. I think a lot will just come down to the last few holes on Sunday. Hopefully, you’re in position, and if she’s there, she’s there, and if she’s not she’s not.
“But the way she’s playing, I would think she’s going to have a chance. Obviously, she’s the one to beat this week. If you can beat her, you’re going to be in there with having a chance to win it.”
This year Matthew is one of two just Scots in the starting field, the other being Carly Booth, the reigning Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Ladies’ Open champion. Booth made it the hard way, coming through Pre-Qualifying at The Berkshire and then in a play-off for the last four places at Monday’s Final Qualifying at Kingsbarns Golf Links.
“It’s great to be here, especially at St Andrews,” she said. “I’ve played the course many times, in the Curtis Cup and a number of times in the St Rule Trophy. The very last time I played here, I came second in the St Rule. I think one of the very first times I played this golf course, I shot seven under par, so I’ve got a lot of good memories.
“It’s a shame there’s not more (Scots), but it’s pretty cool to be one of two to be playing this week.”
Booth will take a large following with her when she goes out at 2.00 pm tomorrow alongside American, Alison Walshe, and Korea’s Amy Yang and another young player who will undoubtedly attract interest will be 17 year-old English girl, Charley Hull, the former Curtis Cup player who has already amassed five runner-up finishes in her rookie year on the Ladies European Tour.
Hull goes out at 11.37 am together with two other former teenage sensations, Americans Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda.
“It’s massive to play at the British Open,” she admitted. “It’s what I have worked for the whole year.
“I remember when I was nine, I played in the pro-am with Morgan Pressel, and then yesterday I was out there in the pro-am playing as a professional. I’ve always dreamed about being a professional golfer, so it just felt right
“At the end of the day, I’m just 17, so I just go out there and have fun,” she added. “I enjoy being out on the golf course and hitting the ball around. I’m going to be thinking about it but I’ve got nothing to lose to be honest, it’s my first year on Tour, so I’m just going to go out and play.”