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Hinako Shibuno thrilled by response to Women's British Open triumph in Japan

Kyodo

Newly crowned Women’s British Open champion Hinako Shibuno said Monday she was thrilled by the response in Japan following her historic victory.

A day after clinching the title on the final hole at Woburn Golf Club, the 20-year-old LPGA of Japan Tour rookie was still letting the moment sink in.

“By morning in Japan, it looked like it was big news. I’ve never experienced this kind of reaction,” Shibuno said.

Despite waking at 5 a.m. after just two or three hours of sleep, Shibuno, whose phone has been inundated with messages of congratulations, said she was “not tired at all.”

An instant favorite among the fans and press at the tournament, Shibuno earned the nickname “the Smiling Cinderella” for her vivacious presence on the course, where she high-fived fans and waved to the delighted galleries.

In a sign of her exploding popularity, her following on photo-sharing app Instagram has more than doubled since before the tournament to around 75,000.

She became just the second Japanese golfer to win an overseas major and the first in 42 years, after shooting a final round 68 to finish at 18-under 270 and claim a one-stroke victory over American Lizette Salas.

She joined Hisako Higuchi, winner of the 1977 LPGA Championship, as the only Japanese golfers to win a major in either the LPGA or PGA.

The victory was all the more remarkable for coming in her first tournament outside Japan and less than a year after she turned professional.

It has also raised the likelihood that she will become one of the faces of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Shibuno is set to return to Japan on Tuesday, after which she will hold a press conference and eventually prepare to return to the Japanese tour.

If the weight of expectations has suddenly intensified, she is showing no signs of feeling it.

“So far, I don’t feel any pressure. I just want to eat some yakiniku (grilled meat )after I go back to Japan,” she said.