Chiara Noja, the 16-year-old Berlin-born schoolgirl who defeated the 26-year-old Charley Hull on the second extra hole in the individual event at the recent Aramco Team Series Jeddah, is a grand prospect and the pride of Dubai where she has been based for the past couple of years.
Six-footers of Noja’s age are often a little coltish or, to put it another way, all over the place. This teenager, though, has a swing which is all three of free, easy and under control. With drives of 288.8 yards, she has shot to the top of the driving-distance stats on the Ladies European Tour.
So much about Noja reminds people of Hull at her age. Golf apart, she is impressively articulate. For instance, when Noja was 14 and at one point the owner of a plus-7.5 handicap, she was doing as Hull would have done in holding her own in a light-hearted Peter Finch video. (This teaching-professional-cum-blogger had bravely challenged her to a nine-hole match at the Faldo Course in Dubai – and lost.)
Noja, like Hull, played amateur golf for England. She was a member of an England squad at 11 and represented the country at 14. Hull, meanwhile, played in the Curtis Cup at 16 before featuring in the Solheim Cup a year later, when she recorded a memorable 5-and-4 win over Paula Creamer.
Noja played for England? Yes, that is precisely what she did during the seven years in which the family lived in Buckinghamshire. However, when the time came to move to Dubai, where her mother had been offered a job, the family decided that she should declare herself German. Not just because both parents are German but because she never had an English passport. “The details are all too confusing,” said the player as she very sensibly gave up midway through what was going to be a par-five of an explanation.
Currently, Noja’s dad is doing as Hull’s father did 10 years ago in serving as his daughter’s guardian, a role which comes with the territory when a family has an underage daughter on the LET. No two dads approach the role the same way, and where Hull’s father kept his distance, Noja’s is more of the hands-on variety.
Dave Hull kept right out of his daughter’s way and, as often as not in the days when he was fully fit, you would come across him sitting among the sand dunes and enjoying a cigarette as Charley’s group, and probably a few others, played past. He took a genuine interest in all of the golfers and, because many of them were out on tour on their own, they appreciated it.
Noja’s father, Tom, for his part, has been acting as all three of guardian, swing coach and caddie.
6-years ago @thechiaranoja met @HullCharley at the 2016 @AIGWomensOpen 📸
They will shortly compete against each other for the @Aramco_Series title 🏆#RaiseOurGame | #BringTheEnergy pic.twitter.com/nzNuXRI5aa
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) November 12, 2022
The week in Jeddah, during which Chiara won $75,000, was the first time that he had handed over the caddying role to another looper. “I think dad is going to miss some of the key moments,” she said, “but he was beginning to find it all too stressful, even emotional. My parents have sacrificed a lot for me over the years, and my dad had to give up his job because he was so consumed with my golf. He used to take me to junior tournaments all over the world.
“Because it had reached the point where dad and I couldn’t talk about anything other than golf, we’d been having these conversations about the caddying for months. Finally, we were all agreed that it was time for him to start enjoying things from the sidelines, to stop for the occasional coffee and relax.”
Felicity Johnson, a former English Amateur champion and a two-time winner on the LET, is just one to have suggested, very tactfully, that caddying maybe wasn’t his forte. “Good job though he was doing for his daughter, he had this tendency to get in the other players’ way on the greens and speak at all the wrong times,” she said.
All of which maybe helps to explain why he was finding the job stressful. It wouldn’t have taken too many glares from the playing companions to have his stress levels soaring.
He will, however, stick with his roles as guardian and swing coach. Once a plus-2 handicapper, he has looked after his daughter’s swing since she was 3 years old and started to accompany him and his wife on their regular golfing forays.
“I’ve never felt the urge to hit it as far as I can. I don’t want to risk injury, and I don’t want to do anything to upset my swing. In other words, I have no idea how far I could hit.” — Chiara Noja
By all accounts, father and daughter catch everyone’s eye on the practice ground where they keep the emphasis on timing. Even though Noja could hit it even farther than her ranking on the stats suggests, she never goes along with requests to see how much longer she could hit if she gave her driver her all.
“It’s not something I’ve ever done, and it’s not something I’m ever going to do,” she said. “I’ve never felt the urge to hit it as far as I can. I don’t want to risk injury, and I don’t want to do anything to upset my swing. In other words, I have no idea how far I could hit.”
Much though she enjoyed Hull’s company in Jeddah, Noja does not have too many friends on the tour, for the simple reason that her sister professionals are mostly so much older. “Some of them already have kids,” she said with a chuckle.
This week, the delightful teenager is back with kids of the same age as she sits a string of General Certificate of Secondary Education mock exams, including in economics and German.
“School is where I do my de-stressing,” she said.
She may not be on the receiving end of any nasty glares, but you can imagine her fellow exam-sitters finding it hard to believe.
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