When rookie pro Hinako Shibuno headed overseas to play in the AIG Women’s British Open, a friend asked her to bring back a souvenir from Britain.

Fellow Japan LPGA pro Momoko Osato told Shibuno “anything is fine, except for food.”

The shiny silver trophy that Shibuno will bring home after winning the Women's British Open on Aug. 4 will do nicely, thank you.

“Shibuno’s performance is inspiring,” Osato said, then restated, “It’s not just inspiring. It’s way more than that.”

Shibuno’s triumph is inspiring to her peers on the JLPGA Tour, in which she is part of the so-called “golden generation” of women’s golf in Japan.

But behind the effervescent smile that charmed the galleries and a worldwide audience are the countless tears of frustration she has shed behind the scenes and early disappointment.

“Keep smiling and worry later. Then, hopefully, things will work out,” Shibuno once said about her approach to her struggles. “I just enjoy playing golf.”

Today, Shibuno has plenty to smile about, along with a proud country that stayed up until the early morning hours of Aug. 5 to watch the final round live on TV.

On the 18th green at Woburn Golf Club near Milton Keynes, England, the 20-year-old Shibuno showed nothing but a gleaming smile.

Showered with wild applause, Shibuno held her putter up to the sky with her left hand after making the downhill winning putt.

It was a defining moment for Shibuno to win her first LPGA title and become the second Japanese woman to win a major since Hisako Higuchi captured the 1977 U.S. LPGA Championship.

Throughout the four-day tournament, Shibuno always kept her trademark smile, dubbed the “Shibuko Smile.”

After sinking a difficult putt, she would grin from ear to ear. Even when missing one, she still smiled, albeit wryly.

While waiting to play, she would munch on onigiri rice balls and her favorite Japanese cheap snack “dagashi,” while laughing along with her caddy.

She responded with big smiles to the enthusiastic galleries and high-fived fans along the ropes as she walked to the next tee.

As the tournament progressed, foreign media began calling Shibuno by a new nickname: “Smiling Cinderella.”

MASTER OF HER OWN EMOTIONS

Shibuno passed the test to become a professional golfer in 2018.

As a rookie pro, she was ranked 577th in the world as of March.

Then, she captured the 2019 World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup, a major tournament on the Japan LPGA Tour, in May, becoming the youngest ever to win the tournament.

Shibuno hoisted the trophy at another JLPGA tournament in Japan in July.

The British Open marked the first time that Shibuno competed in a tournament outside Japan.

Her radiant smiles were indeed a key factor to the Cinderella-like story.

Up until high school, Shibuno was known for not being able to hide her anger and frustration.

But after turning pro, Shibuno quickly realized that whenever she showed such negative emotions, she would start making bogeys and ruin her scorecard.

She started to change her mood and tried to smile at all times.

Once Shibuno became the master of her emotions, she unlocked her boundless talent.

It is evident in her performance that Shibuno is at her best when under pressure.

Shibuno’s ability to “Bounce Back,” a statistic that shows the percentage of holes over par immediately followed by a hole that is under par, ranks at the top on the Japan women’s tour this season.

In the third round of the British Open, Shibuno bogeyed the ninth hole but rebounded with a birdie on the 10th hole.

That triggered a birdie barrage on the back nine as Shibuno shot a 6-under-par 30 to seize the lead by two strokes over her playing partner, Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa.

On the final day, Shibuno gave up her lead with a disastrous four putt and double-bogey 6 on the third hole. But the resilient star rebounded once again with clutch birdies on the back nine again before her winning putt on No. 18.

LOVE OF SOFTBALL AND ‘DAGASHI’

Shibuno was born in Okayama Prefecture in 1998.

Raised by her parents, both of whom competed athletically in field throwing events, Shibuno was an active child who loved playing outdoors.

“I wanted to be the hero character Kamen Rider when I grew up,” she recalled of her aspirations as a kindergartener.

At the age of 8, Shibuno was introduced to playing golf and softball.

Shibuno was a pitcher and left-handed hitter in softball.

Shibuno said, her experience in playing softball has prepared her well for becoming a golfer.

“Hitting left-handed in softball worked well in learning to balance myself,” said Shibuno, who hits a golf ball right-handed. “Also, pitching in softball is similar to hitting a short approach shot in golf.”

She joined a baseball club in junior high school and competed among the boys, but golf became her sole focus once she entered high school.

“To be honest, I still prefer softball to golf,” Shibuno said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun prior to the Women’s British Open.

Her affection is not limited to softball. Shibuno is also a huge fan of cheap Japanese snacks.

During the British Open, she was often seen snacking on dagashi, including one that is stick-shaped and made of processed fish.

Since Shibuno’s victory, the manufacturer of the particular snack in Yamanashi Prefecture has been flooded with calls and inquires.

SMILING FACE OF GOLDEN GENERATION

Shibuno is part of the golden generation, a group of exceptionally talented rising Japanese female golfers who were born from April 1998 to March 1999.

The group has been led by Minami Katsu, who won a tour tournament in Japan at the age of 15, and Nasa Hataoka, who has won three tournaments on the U.S. LPGA Tour.

Others include Yui Kawamoto, who won her first tournament this season and ranks fifth on the prize money list in Japan, and Osato, who won her first tournament on the JLPGA Tour last year.

Now, Shibuno has impressed her peers with her historic win.

“It’s amazing. She really is Cinderella,” said Kawamoto.

Osato has been close with Shibuno since they played a round together when they were first-year high school students.

“She is always smiling, just like she was (at the British Open),” Osato said about Shibuno, whom she often dines with. “Her play is very decisive.”

As of the end of July, Shibuno ranked 46th in the world, the fourth-highest Japanese golfer, behind Hataoka and others.

With her victory at the British Open, Shibuno will move up in the rankings and improve her chances of representing Japan at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“If there is a chance, I definitely want to seize it,” Shibuno said.

(This article was compiled from reports by Kenichi Kimura, Yuki Hanano and others.)