Fifteen year old Lydia Ko will have precious time to savior her record-setting victory in the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open in Christchurch.
She flies out in the early morning and has a round booked at Royal Canberra later in the day in readiness for this week’s ISPS Handa Australian Open, where she cannot be discounted.
“I am pretty excited to go to the Australian Open. It’s another LPGA tournament and that will be pretty exciting. But I just have to calm myself a bit and start the week fresh,” Ko said.
She had every right to be excited after making a clutch three foot putt on the final hole to become the first Kiwi to win the New Zealand Women’s Open and the youngest player to ever win a Ladies European Tour or Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour event.
As the nerves left, tears of joy streamed down Ko’s face as she came to terms with her third professional win from only 12 events.
“I didn’t cry at the Canadian Open so I don’t know why I cried here,” Ko explained afterwards with her trademark giggle.
“I guess it meant more. It is our national open so to win means a lot. I am not the person who shows expression of feeling but I guess the tears showed it.”
Ko rated her NZ Open win as the finest win of her already so successful career.
“[This win] is at the top. It is the national open and I came so close in the last three years. This topped it off. The New South Wales Open and the Canadian Open were obviously great wins as well.”
She became the first New Zealand winner of the event since it began in 2009 and usurped the record set by South Korean Amy Yang, who was aged 16 years, 6 months, 8 days, when she won the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia as an amateur in 2006. Ko is aged 15 years, eight months and 17 days.
Ko became only the third amateur to win on the Ladies European Tour after Gillian Stewart (at the 1984 IBM European Open at the Belfry) and Amy Yang (at the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters).
“It means a lot and makes it more special to be the first New Zealander to win the Women’s Open. It is always special to make history. I guess I broke history again.”
It wasn’t always likely. The joint overnight leader was caught and overtaken during the final round by Australian Stacey Keating and then American Amelia Lewis who worked her way to seven-under for the day and 10-under for the tournament.
Ko nailed a vital fifth birdie of the day on the 15th hole to draw level with Lewis, before Keating’s chances slipped away when she three-putted the final hole to drop out of contention.
Lewis, safely on the final green in two, then three-putted also as the young New Zealander watched on from the right-hand rough.
She maneuvered her approach to within 25 feet from the hole, left her first putt an agonising five feet past but calmly slotted the put amid roars from the massive gallery that encircled the final green.
“I didn’t know what happened on the final hole. My caddy said you have two putts to win and I thought, oh god. I hit on in two with two shots over 300m but having a 10m putt I was more nervous.”
The World No 38 has continued her quite remarkable rise in world golf. In her 12th start in professional tournaments, she has now won three times and been runner-up twice with her global ranking likely to move close to the top-20.
She finished on 10-under par, one shot ahead of Lewis who closed with a six-under 66 with a further shot back to Keating, who fired a five-under 67 today.
Overnight leader Seon-Woo Bae (South Korea) finished fourth on seven-under, with Australians Sarah-Jane Smith and Nikki Campbell finished tied for fifth place with England’s Elizabeth Bennett, while Italy’s Giulia Sergas completed the top-10.
Ko has no time to rest. She leaves for the ISPS Australian Open tomorrow at 6am and will be among the tournament favorites after making history in Christchurch.