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Hinako Shibuno draws large crowd in opening round of Hokkaido Meiji Cup

Kyodo

Fresh off a surprise win on her major debut at the Women’s British Open, 20-year-old Hinako Shibuno stole the spotlight in the first round of the Hokkaido Meiji Cup on Friday.

Rainy conditions did not stop fans from turning out to see Japan’s newest golf sensation in her first tournament since returning home from last weekend’s event in Milton Keynes, England, the only initial letdown was Shibuno’s scorecard.

Shibuno got off to a slow start, finishing her opening nine holes at 1-over, but got on track on the back nine with three birdies to finish at 2-under 70 on the day and in a nine-way tie for 11th, three shots behind sole leader Shin Ji-yai of South Korea.

Although her schedule has been hectic since returning to Japan, Shibuno was content with her score and her reception.

“I’m glad I finished the round under par, considering the situation that I was in,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling well, but I was able to enjoy my round with so many people coming out.”

Around 8:20 a.m., Shibuno arrived at Sapporo International Country Club in her pink pants and navy top, putting on her rain gear before moving to the practice range.

Among the large gallery was Kiri Sato, a second-grader and aspiring tour pro residing in Sapporo who says she got an autograph from the Japan LPGA rookie some time ago.

“I knew I could come and cheer her on if she came to Hokkaido. I hope she does as well and wins again,” Sato said.

According to tournament organizers, there was a 60 percent boost in advanced ticket sales in comparison to last year.

“There were a lot of kids, and they were rooting for me to do my best or telling me they like me. They were so cute,” Shibuno said.

Since she turned pro last summer, Shibuno has won two titles on the domestic tour. She was playing in her first professional tournament outside of Japan at the British Open, where she became the second Japanese to win an overseas major, after Hisako Higuchi trimphed in the 1977 LPGA Championship.