On very rare days golf professionals play rounds that are simply beyond the imagination of the rest. Greg Norman’s second round 63 at Turnberry in the 1986 Open Championship was one of those days but that are pretty scarce. They are almost always played in poor weather and on difficult courses.
Lydia Ko, the fifteen-year old New Zealand amateur shot an opening ten under par 63 to begin the Australian Open at Royal Canberra but the weather was ideal and the course far from difficult. This was not an unfathomable score but it was a great score and has us wondering if she could possibly win the championship. Of course, we know she can because she beat nineteen of the best twenty players in the world when she won the Canadian Open last year.
What was extraordinary was that here was a kid still in the middle years of high school playing one perfectly placed shot after another and dismantling a golf course with stoic precision.
Only rarely did she even look like veering off the prefect line. Teeing off the 10th she pushed her opening drive into the edge of the right trees and she pulled an iron long and left at the par three 8th. Those misses accounted for two of her three bogeys and she run a long second shot into the American style rough just off the back of the 16th green and took three more to get down.
What was worth observing was the comparison between Ko and her partners, Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie.
Tseng is ranked at the best player in the world and it is easy to see why. She has a muscular strong and stocky body that is perfect for golf. One of the most powerful players she made has a huge advantage over Ko approaching into the greens. Coming into the 12th green Ko went with some sort of hybrid club that is neither wood nor iron while Tseng was hitting an easy eight iron. Both made birdies there and Ko followed with two more at the downhill short hole and the long two-shot 14th.
At the 15th the kid was far behind from the tee and then laid back short of the cross mounds leaving herself about ninety meters to the hole. Tseng was a long way around the corner with a high draw and off the back edge with a middle iron. Second shot. She made an easy birdie but not before Ko had holed the pitch for an eagle. Then at the 16th Ko was over with another hybrid while the Taiwanese star was pitching a wedge to a foot.
It is a lot to give up and it is a strategy that relies on relentless accuracy and uncommon confidence.
At Ko’s age, indeed even a year or two younger, Michelle Wie was going to be the most dominant player ever to play the women’s game. With a big swing that bore a remarkable resemblance to Ernie Els she finished in the top five in a major championship and came within a shot of making the cut of the Hawaiian Open – the men’s Hawaiian Open.
She has won twice on the tour but she is far from dominant. She looks bound up in the mechanics of the swing, constantly practice swinging and drilling feelings that look difficult to incorporate into a real swing. She strikes her irons impressively but one fears for her when the driver comes out of the bag. Sure she is longer than Ko but you are betting your house the kid is finding the fairway and most often with a perfectly shaped tee shot. The wild tee shot caught up with Wie at the 18th. The long and straight par five is one of the narrowest holes at Royal Canberra and right is no good. She made a fumbling mess of extracting herself from the trees and hazards and dropped four shots.
It is always a long way back from a nine and in the end her 74 was an education in grinding and scrapping to a respectable score.
It wasn’t a disaster but one wonders if she watched her partner cruise to an effortless 63 and ponder what happened.