Britain's Alice Hewson praises golf's reaction to coronavirus outbreak

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Britain's Alice Hewson
Alice Hewson usually splits her time between the UK and America

Alice Hewson is as entitled as any athlete to feel frustration at the sporting shutdown.

The 22-year-old British golfer is the last player to celebrate victory on one of the leading professional circuits after winning the South African Open on 14 March.

But Hewson has been denied the opportunity to build any momentum from that win. She should have followed up her maiden victory, which came in her first Ladies European Tour appearance, by playing a $1m LET tournament in Saudi Arabia last week.

But the coronavirus outbreak puts paid to top level sport and Hewson is back home in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. Fortunately she is blessed with a healthy outlook and appreciation of what is happening in the wider world.

"Yes it is frustrating," she told BBC Sport. "But I know we are all doing this for the right reason.

"It's all for the greater good of the whole world really. Italy is really struggling and so any measures that we can take as a whole country, I think, will be beneficial in the long run and that's what is important.

"The LET has shown that by cancelling all its events, it knows that the health of its players and their families are what is most important."

Since returning Hewson has been cramming in as much practice at Berkhamsted Golf Club as possible in a bid to retain the form that brought such a remarkable start to her professional career.

"The range is hit your own golf balls and it's out of the way a little bit so I've been able to continue practicing as I would," she said. "I've been trying to do as much as I can before we go into a full lockdown."

Hewson won €30,000 (£27,850) with her triumph at Westlake in Cape Town. When the season resumes the money will provide vital funds for the start of what promises to be an exciting professional career.

"I don't have any sponsors or any financial support," she revealed. "So to be able to get some money under my belt at the start of the season at least means that I know I can afford a couple of months worth of golf."

The LET and the feeder Symetra Tour in the United States are where Hewson is planning to compete and find a potential route to the relative riches of the LPGA.

"The fact that I'm based over here and in America as well, the costs really do add up quickly, so to secure some money means that I'm able to play in a few more events," she said.

It is a genuinely hand to mouth existence, but there are few if any other professionals who can say they have a 100% winning record in their career.

Hewson's progress from the amateur ranks has been remarkable and not just because she won on her first paid appearance. Her debut should have been a week earlier in Abu Dhabi but was delayed because of the spread of the pandemic.

"It was strange," she said. "The whole field was already there, I think 40 of us. We were all prepared, we were ready to go and then the night before the pro-am day everything was called off by the government.

"But it was lovely to be in the sun, in a gorgeous hotel by the beach. There are definitely worse places to be left in without a golf tournament."

Hewson took the time to get to know other players on the LET. She was aware of their names but had never previously encountered them in person.

It helped her feel more comfortable when she arrived in South Africa. There she played like a seasoned pro with rounds of 70, 70 and 71 to finish five under par and secure a one stroke victory.

"I could see the leaderboards as I was coming in," Hewson said. "It was after the 15th hole that I could see I was ahead, so to play the next few holes and make some really solid pars put other people in the position where they had to make birdies if they wanted to catch me.

"It was nerve-wracking because I hadn't really been in that position before. When I won the European Amateur last summer I was so far ahead of the leaders, they were only coming around nine holes by the time that I was finishing.

"So I was able to continue to press there, I don't think I even reached the score the leaders were on by the time I finished. It was definitely a new experience to actually see that I was in the lead with only a couple of holes to play."

That she was able to retain her composure to seal such a vital win suggests Hewson possesses the nerve and composure so vital to a successful professional career.

Right now, though, it is on hold.

She was able to share her victory with the people who helped inspire her pathway into golf at Berkhamsted, the club she visited as soon as she returned from South Africa.

"Everyone was sat a comfortable two metres apart inside the clubhouse and it was lovely to see all the ladies that I've grown up playing with," she said. "They took me under their wing when I was seven years old."

And now Hewson is a fully grown professional winner, even though her career is only one tournament old and she faces this uncertain wait to play her second event wherever and whenever that might be.