Japanese golfer trying to be herself as she bids for second major title at the US Women's Open.

Hinako Shibuno said on Saturday she is learning to live with the overnight celebrity she gained after coming out of nowhere to win last year's Women's British Open in her first LPGA event.

Shibuno, who is known for her solid all-round game and magnetic personality, was dubbed the  ''Smiling Cinderella'' after the breakthrough win, which catapulted her to fame in her native Japan and beyond.

The 22-year-old said the attention that came from her TV appearances has not impacted her play but did require an adjustment on a personal level.

''Appearing on the TV show and stuff like that does not affect my golf performance at all,'' she told reporters after the third round of the U.S. Women's Open, where she holds a stroke lead.

''However, once I became a celebrity, and celebrity status, it makes it difficult to be myself.

''So just recently I was able to get rid of my shell, so to speak, so that I can be myself again.''

The lack of attention might actually be hindering her at the year's final major, where no fans are allowed at Houston's Champions Golf Club due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

''Last year when I won the major, there was a large number of people out in front of me because of the audience.
''That gave me power and it's easy for me to get the momentum as well.

''Now there's no people, no audience and it's very difficult for me to get any momentum, because when I get a run of birdies, when I get the birdie, it's silence.''

If she can hold for the win, it will be anything but silent back in Japan and she can expect the spotlight to intensify.

Aside from Shibuno, the only Japanese to win a major golf tournament was Hisako ''Chako'' Higuchi in 1977. [Reuters]


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