Those kinds of things don’t happen in big moments. Players and fans interact, sure. Show up early to any baseball park and you’ll see autographs signed before or after batting practice. Late into the night, fans gather outside stadiums awaiting superstars who may or may not pose for a picture or two. But never during game time; never during those hours when players dial into the task at hand, putting themselves “in the zone,” that place where the outside world disappears. Watch a star quarterback get off the team bus wearing headphones and a steely-eyed stare, oblivious to the mob of cheering fans around him, and you recognize the mindset. After the game, that person might be gracious, personable and giving. But from the moment the game-time switch flips on until the clock hits zero, there is an understood distance between competitors and fans.
That is what made Hannah Green’s final round of her first career win so extraordinary. After leading the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship every day, the Australian defied all the experts’ predictions by not only holding her lead over Ariya Jutanugarn, but extending it to four shots with two birdies in her first seven holes.
Then came the moment. On the 30-yard walk between the 7th and 8th holes at Hazeltine National Golf Club, clearly a time that is the definition of “in the zone,” Green made eye contact with a young girl, seven-year-old Lily Koster, in the gallery.
“I had seen Lily and her friend throughout the day, and they had been giving me high-fives,” Green told LPGA.com almost a year later. “I’d made the birdie on seven and noticed as I was walking off the green that the girls on the 8th tee hadn’t even hit yet. So, I knew there was a bit of time and I didn’t want to get nervous. I knew I needed to switch off and not waste energy.
“I saw the (young) girls right near the green and saw that Lily wanted to give me something. So, I thought, well, now would be the time. I was happy to go over to them, read the note, give her a little hug and then go back in and focus.”
It was a moment that stunned everyone who saw it. This was the equivalent of Tom Brady going into Row 15 and chatting with a Patriots’ fan between the first and second quarters. Green thanked the young girl, folded the note, which was written on purple construction paper, and put it in her yardage book where she could see it the rest of the day.
“It didn’t feel as though I was doing anything that I wouldn’t normally do,” Green told LPGA.com. “(Lily) was at the ANA (Inspiration) earlier in the year and I had kind of walked out of my way to give her a golf ball (there). That’s not unusual. It’s what most players do. Maybe not in a major championship in a final round but it’s relatively common. We all recognize that it isn’t always about us. It’s about the future as well.”
That is perspective born from experience. Green remembers what it was like to be that little girl, to show up at a major, awed and determined.
“I never had the luxury of going to watch tournaments being in Perth, Australia,” Green said. “My big step into going to watch people play tournaments was the U.S. Women’s Open (at Lancaster Country Club in 2015 where she was a guest of Karrie Webb). My first interactions with any famous players was during Karrie’s practice round when she played with Gerina Piller and Stacy Lewis who were both at the height of their careers. So, I was very starstruck. Throughout the week, I waited and got players signatures. It’s like I was that little girl, even though it was only a couple of years later that I turned pro. It’s probably because I didn’t have that luxury (of interacting with professionals) myself, that I now want to make sure that these girls coming through have the opportunity to learn from me and Minjee (Lee) and other (Australian Tour players).”
Green’s first trip to the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open was in 2016, the first year she played in it. She only met Adam Scott, her other Australian golf idol, last year after Green has become a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
“I didn’t really watch a lot of televised golf until right before I was going to go to the U.S. Open,” she said. “Once I got to know Karrie, I was like, ‘Wow, she’s a really nice person, not just what you see from someone in the limelight.’ Before that, I had no idea what to expect.”
Green made that initial trip to Lancaster as a recipient of the Karrie Webb Scholarship, a program where Webb takes deserving Australian juniors with her to major championships for the week. “Golf Australia helped me come up with the concept but the idea of coming over to stay with me was mine and the idea of doing it during a major championship was mine,” Webb said.
She’s been doing it since 2008, but the Hall of Famer noticed something different in 2015 with Green. “I could just tell the way she carries herself on the golf course and how mentally strong she is that she was made to win golf tournaments on the LPGA Tour,” Webb said. “She was made to win majors.”
Now, Australia’s newest major champion hopes to give others what Webb gave to her.
“The high school that I went to has a golf program attached to it and in the last couple of years I’ve become an ambassador for them,” Green said. “At least once (a season), I devote an entire day to being with them, watching them practice, having them watch me practice, playing together with them, just an entire day. It’s a great opportunity for me to get to know them. I’ve asked if they would like to play with me and it’s great to see their reactions.
“I’m not sure what it will lead to but being able to be there for them and to give them someone to talk to, that’s what I want to do going forward.”