Lydia Ko today shoots for her second LPGA title
The golf world has been gripped by Lydia Ko fever.
Today's bid by the 15-year-old Auckland schoolgirl to win the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at Royal Canberra has attracted headlines around the world, and generated unprecedented online traffic.
Golf Australia's website network, which includes WomensAustralianOpen.com, had more hits on Saturday than it had during the men's Australian Open tournament at The Lakes last December. There was a huge influx of readers from New Zealand, representing 47 percent of the viewers compared to 35 percent from Australia. Ko's scorecard was clicked upon fivefold by comparison with any other player in the field for the $1.2 million tournament.
In the United States, the Golf Channel has chosen to broadcast the final round live after previously showing only potted highlights. It goes to air from 9pm eastern seaboard time in the US, virtually in prime time. ''Watch Ko, 15, try to win back-to-back,'' screamed the cable channel's advertising blurb this morning. The station does not often broadcast LPGA events live from overseas, and described the decision as "a rare treat for US golf fans''.
There has been a strong fascination with Ko at Royal Canberra this week. On Saturday, the gallery following her and Australia's Kristie Smith in the second-last group was perhaps five times as big as the crowd with the last group, Colombia's Mariajo Uribe and Jiyai Shin of South Korea.
Ko, who is in year 11, exploded on to the big-time golf scene last year when she won the United States amateur championship, then became the youngest-ever winner of a professional tournament when she won the New South Wales Open in January at 15 years, four months. In August she also became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour tournament when she took out the Women's Canadian Open in Vancouver. Just last week she won the New Zealand Open, her third victory in a professional title in just a dozen starts.
The Korean-born New Zealander, already ranked 30th in the world and possibly about to break into the top 10, has said she does not intend turning professional yet. Her plans are to complete her schooling in Auckland then take up a US college scholarship, meaning she would remain as an amateur. But with each successive top-level performance, the pressure increases upon her to turn professional and go on tour full-time.
If she wins today, she will forgo another $180,000 in prizemoney.
Ko tees off with joint-leader Shin of South Korea at 1.40 today, with that pair six shots ahead of the remainder of the field. Perfect conditions greeted the players at Royal Canberra this morning.