Lydia Ko dominated on the first day of play.
Her media commitments fulfilled after an astonishing first round 10-under par 63 in the opening round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open on Thursday, Lydia Ko sat upstairs in the Royal Canberra clubhouse with her mother Tina, her grandmother and caddie Steve Mowbrey giggling like a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
That she is just that puts the enormity of what she’d done on the aesthetically beautiful RC layout almost beyond belief, yet in the short couple of years we’ve known her we’ve been witnessing a true phenomenon of the great game of golf.
With Tiger Woods we were readied for what was to come when, just a couple of months shy of his third birthday, he appeared on the Michael Douglas Show on US TV in which Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart were fellow guests, but Ko didn’t enter our consciousness until she presented herself as a 13-year-old at Oatlands GC in Sydney for the NSW Women’s Open in 2011.
Those across the ditch in NZ knew a little of her fledgling amateur career but the world at large knew nought. Heaven help what might have happened to her had her parents chosen the US to immigrate to when Ko was aged seven instead of New Zealand where there is relative anonymity half a world away from the hype Americans so often generate.
She was just a little girl wearing glasses who loved playing golf and who played for the sheer enjoyment. The odd miss-club, mistake or missed putt, was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and then on with the job. She still plays that way.
At Oatlands two years ago, she finished runner-up to Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, three-putting the 72nd hole to lose by a shot. Last year, it is history now that aged 14, she became the youngest winner – male or female – to win a professional tournament when she triumphed at Oatlands.
In the US where little that happens elsewhere in the world seldom gets noticed, she was shown scant regard. Her coach Guy Wilson, of the NZ Golf Institute, was confident Ko would receive an invite to the first major of the year as the No 1 world ranked amateur to the first major of 2012 (the Nabisco) but she was ignored with half a dozen other amateurs getting the nod.
This year, those at Rancho Mirage in California will welcome her with open arms as last August she won the Canadian Open, arguably the best tournament on the LPGA Tour outside the majors, to become the youngest ever LPGA winner aged 15. Just last week, she won the NZ Women’s Open. She is now No 30 in the Rolex world rankings – as an amateur.
Should she win come Sunday, she will hold three national open championships at the same time. That won’t be a record for the women’s game as Laura Davies won the NZ, German, Indian and Spanish opens in 2010 and in 1987 Scot Dale Reid won the Northern Ireland, Dutch, Scottish and European opens.
On the men’s side, it is the late Seve Ballesteros who has the record at five in a stunning year in 1978 when he won the opens of Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Japan and Kenya.
Here at Royal Canberra they still talk of Greg Norman’s 10-under 62 in the first round of the ESP Open, and now they’ll talk of Lydia Ko.
World No 1 Yani Tseng does – and it is in glowing terms. She’d seen Ko on TV but never in person so when she stepped onto the 10th tee (their first hole) they met for the first time. American Michelle Wie was the third member of the threesome.
Tseng was quite happy, save for making bogey at the ninth that was their final hole, with her five under 68 yet she trailed the kid by five shots.
“It was fun to watch her (Ko) play golf today. I mean she still looks 15. I don’t know how she hit the ball so well. I don’t know. I wasn’t even that close to her when I was 15. I really enjoyed playing with her today, too. She pushed me up a little bit,” Tseng said.
They chatted along the way, about where she wants to go to college in the US – for Ko remains adamant that she will rather than turn professional in the near future – and what Ko thinks playing as an amateur in a professional tournament.
“Is it very different?” Tseng asked.
“Mmm … pretty similar,” Ko replied.
“That’s a lot different from me (when she was an amateur),” Tseng said.
“She is only 15 but she looks like a pro, so I mean I treat her like a pro, but I treat her like a child, too. I feel I’m getting old,” said Tseng who turned 24 last month.
Ko’s 10 under tally was the lowest round ever recorded in the Women’s Australian Open, beating Karrie Webb’s nine-under 64 at Melbourne’s Yarra Yarra course along the way to victory in 2000. But, Ko’s 63 will not go in the record books as preferred lies were in play because several parts of the course were still we still wet after heavy watering to protect the course from recent extreme heat.
The young lady won’t fuss too much about that. She has already set some impressive records, and her career isn’t even out of the nappy stage.