After victory in her first LET tournament as a professional just before lockdown, Englishwoman Alice Hewson can’t wait to get back out competing again.
No Time To Waste – Alice Hewson Exclusive
Alice Hewson’s win at the South African Ladies Open could be one of the most significant victories of 2020, but it’s entirely plausible that you missed it happening. The day after the cancellation of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship because of the coronavirus – a decision that helped drive home the magnitude of the situation – Hewson completed a one-stroke victory at Westlake Golf Club.
It was her maiden win on the circuit and it came in her first event as a Ladies European Tour member – no other Englishwoman has achieved that feat.
The 22-year-old from Hemel Hempstead only turned pro in September 2019, and it’s been a series of success stories since then. At the end of last year, she earned a Symetra Tour card via the LPGA Tour’s Qualifying Series and in January, she became a fully-fledged member of the LET courtesy of a fifth-place finish at Q-School.
Before that, she’d breached the top 20 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and enjoyed a fruitful collegiate career at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Hewson is clearly someone who enjoys writing her name into the history books. At Clemson, she won the first two events she played in, and last year she became the first Englishwomen to play competitively at the home of The Masters in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“I absolutely loved my time in the States – I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says. “I was a one-time All-American and a four-time All-ACC player [the conference she competed in]. In 2016 and 2017, I was also a part of England Golf’s European Team Championships side, which we won both years, and I won the European Amateur last summer.”
Making the step up
Quite a record, I’m sure you’ll agree. But the past is littered with players who have conquered the amateur world but failed to make a mark as a pro. Hewson ensured her name wouldn’t be added to that list almost immediately.
“Last September was definitely a good time to turn pro. I’d qualified for the Women’s British Open via the European Amateur and that was only my second professional event, but I had to remain amateur for it,” she says.
“A couple of weeks later, there was an LET Access event at Stoke by Nayland. England Golf gave out a couple of exemptions and I was fortunate to get one. I turned pro that week and finished second.”
In October, Hewson went to the States to compete in the LPGA Tour’s Qualifying Series and came out with a full card for the second-tier Symetra Tour.
“With that security, I figured I might as well do LET Q-School as well, to get some more tournament experience, especially with the increases in opportunities and prize pools this year on the LET. It was a no-brainer, really,” she explains.
“I stayed with friends out in Spain and managed to get my full tour card, which I never expected. I was really relaxed throughout – it was definitely comforting to know I had status on the Symetra Tour and it enabled me to play quite freely.
It was nine rounds in two weeks, which is obviously a lot, but I was able to stay calm and collected and finished fifth in the end.”
Thousands of pros have made multiple visits to Q-School and come nowhere near the top ten. Assurance of a Symetra Tour card or not, safely navigating nine rounds – four of which were pre-qualifying to get into the tournament proper – just four months after turning pro is extremely commendable.
Hewson then travelled to the USA for some practice before heading to Abu Dhabi for what was supposed to be her first LET event. It was cancelled shortly afterwards, however.
“We had no idea what the future held at that point, so to be able to go to South Africa and play was very nice,” she says. “I didn’t have any expectations – I just wanted to get off to a solid start and see how I could do. I’d met some of the girls in Abu Dhabi and they were all very welcoming, so I felt at home.”
That winning feeling
Hewson opened up with a two-under-par 70 to sit one off the lead after the first day of the three-round tournament and followed it up with another 70 to enter to final round three behind.
“Normally my iron play is the strength of my game, but I drove it really well and putted really well over those first two rounds,” she says. “I didn’t feel any pressure to push on the third day – I just wanted to play my game. Westlake is not an easy golf course, so I tried to stay steady and keep hitting fairways and greens.”
On a challenging final day, Hewson mixed birdies at the 1st and 4th with a bogey at the 2nd to reach the turn tied for the lead. Another dropped shot followed at the 10th, but despite finding trouble in the trees on the par-5 13th, she managed an all-important birdie four.
Pars followed over the next four holes and she stood on the 18th tee thinking another would be good enough for a play-off.
She pulled her drive into the trees on the left of the fairway, though, and clipped some branches with her second shot, leaving a 60-yard pitch from the rough for her third. Admirably, she hit it to seven feet and holed the resulting putt to complete the tournament on five-under-par.
“I could see the lead coming back to me throughout the day, but I had no idea the putt on the last was for the outright win. I thought it would be good enough to force extra holes, but everyone in the group behind had bogeyed the 17th.”
Irrespective of whether the putt was for the outright win or a play-off, making an up-and-down from 60 yards on the last hole points to an inner steel and penchant for the big occasion. Some people possess the innate ability to produce their best when the pressure is on.
“After I’d finished the round, I went in to sort my scorecard out. I was then ushered out because people wanted to do interviews. At this point, I still didn’t know the group behind had made bogeys and that I’d won the tournament!” she explains.
“I’m still not sure it’s sunk in. It was all a bit of a whirlwind and it happened so fast. It felt absolutely incredible. Growing up as a kid, all I could ever dream of was playing on the Ladies European Tour and to win my first event, the feeling is indescribable.”
Some were surprised the tournament took place given the circumstances, but as far as Hewson was concerned, it was the correct call.
“Everyone was already in South Africa and it was a low-risk area, so it was nice to be able to play some golf. We don’t know how long it’s going to be before we’re able to do that again,” she says.
With professional golf on an enforced hiatus and endless time at home to think, it would be understandable for Hewson’s mind to wander to the future, especially with the 2021 Solheim Cup beginning to appear on the horizon. She’s keeping her feet firmly on the ground, however.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead, honestly. I’ve only played one event as a professional! My immediate focus is getting myself settled on both the LET and Symetra Tour,” she says.
It’s the answer you would expect, but there’s no doubt European captain Catriona Matthew would have sat up and taken notice. Of course, looking so far ahead is premature, but Hewson has every chance of following in the footsteps of the likes of Bronte Law, Georgia Hall and Charley Hull.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from those girls,” she says. “I played a lot of golf with Bronte growing up. We played on the 2016 Curtis Cup team together and on a lot of other England teams, too. I didn’t get to play too much with Georgia, although we participated in a few training camps together. To see what she and the other girls have achieved is very inspiring. It’s definitely proved what’s possible.”
We may not see Hewson on the fairways for some time, but there’s no question she’s one of England’s most exciting young talents.
It’s impossible to predict what the future holds, but her undoubted ability and proclivity for making history should stand her in good stead going forward.
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