Lydia Ko will this week attempt to create history by becoming the youngest player ever to win the US Women’s Open title, in doing so she will need to finish ahead of an outstanding group of youngsters who are also right at the top of their game.
Golf’s number one player and undoubtedly the most dominant player on the LPGA Tour over the past eighteen months, Ko is chasing her third major championship in her last four attempts, looking to add to the Evian Championship she won in 2015 and the ANA Inspiration title she won earlier this year.
Ko has won eight LPGA Tour titles in the last eighteen months in addition to her two victories on the ALPG Tour, at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open in 2015 and 2016, and she begins this week’s event as the tournament favourite despite the likes of fellow teen Brooke Henderson and 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn both coming into the tournament in red hot form.
Historically the US Women’s Open has not proven to be Ko’s happiest hunting ground, her best finish so far coming last year in Pennsylvania when she finished tied for 12th, 7 shots behind eventual winner and defending champion this week In Gee Chun.
Ko’s most recent start in a major championship saw a playoff loss at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to Brooke Henderson, who along with Jutanagarn seem the players most likely to threaten Ko’s number one ranking.
The young Kiwi star comes into this week’s US Open full of confidence, with three LPGA wins along with three runner-up finishes so far in 2016 “I feel like I am coming into good form,” said Ko today. “But the crazy and fun thing about this game is that day-to-day, it's different, so week to week is going to be very different!”
Ko already has a reputation for being much wiser than her 19years, and admits that she is keen to keep learning “I think experience has been a huge learning curve for me, and even now I'm still learning about different situations or about having balance in all these different things. I think that's the big thing, when you get into these different situations, and that situation even though it might not have ended the way I wanted it to, I can definitely learn from it. It doesn't matter if I win or come top-10 or end up missing the cut, I think there's always something you can learn from and I think that's a big thing, experience.”
By pacing herself and meticulously planning her playing schedule with her team, Ko gives herself every chance to perform well each and every time she tees it up “I had a good rest last week. This year has been a lot of fun playing, and I'm just going to enjoy it. It's so beautiful here, there's so much to enjoy than think about, hey, I would love to be holding the trophy at the end of Sunday.”
Despite the 19-year-old’s amazing run of success which goes back to her record-breaking win as a 14 year old at the 2012 Bing Lee NSW Women’s Open, golf is only part of her life, in her spare time she is completing a degree in psychology while managing to play at a level that most of her peers can only dream of. “I took up psychology because I was really fascinated about the human mind, learning how people behave because of these things. And I didn't realize how big and how broad of a topic psychology was. I'm only in my second year right now, so I'm still learning more about psychology. And I think it's an endless thing. There are so many things and so many perspectives you can learn about, and with psychology, it's huge in sports and in golf. Sometimes I'm able to put my perspective in it, sports psychology. So I think it's been really cool for me to learn about it and actually put my experience to use.”
“We all have these emotions. So you have to take it, and I think all these are learning curves and to me that was a learning curve of how to handle the final round going into the final round in the final group in all those situations.I feel like -- I won't lie, I have cried after a tournament, but it's not -- I feel like if you get over it, it's not the end of the world. I think sometimes crying or showing emotion, I think is not a bad thing. It's in that moment. As long as it doesn't carry until the week after or the week after, knowing that at the back of your mind, hey, I should have done this better. Showing sometimes a little bit of frustration or excitement or tears, we're all human, you know?”
"There's still so many things you can learn, and it's not like this is my last ever event. There's still so many great tournaments, I'm sure that I will probably be in that kind of situation later. It might happen soon or it might happen in a few years, who knows. But I've just got to say, hey, it's part of learning things, and I think that's the great thing about family and your support team. They're always there by your side to help you go through all that."
Ko played the challenging Cordevalle layout back in April, but acknowledged that the course is now playing much differently “The course is playing a little differently than when I was here at the end of April. It's a lot warmer right now. I think as the week goes on, it's going to play different to what it was on Monday. Progressively I feel like the greens and the fairways and everything is going to get a little bit drier.”
Ko also said that both the course and the area remind her a lot of home “It does remind me a bit of New Zealand. In New Zealand, the weather doesn't fluctuate much. It's not like it snows a lot or it gets super-hot. It's always in that same range. I feel like it's the same here, I love California and I love coming to play here. The fans are great, the courses are great, so I think it's going to be a great week.”
Ko was her ever-humble self when asked about the chance of becoming the youngest player ever to win the most prized trophy in the women’s’ game, “I've been very fortunate to have this opportunity to come and play on the Tour that I've always dreamt of playing at a younger age. And I feel like, I always say things have gone so much faster than I would have ever dreamt or imagined it to. For me to even have a chance to be the youngest winner of this championship or these records, I think, just to be able to have the chance, and even if I don't get it done, I think it's such a cool feeling just to experience that."
“To me, even though I go, oh, how come you told me that stat, it's really cool at the end of the day. But when I'm out there, I'm not thinking about, hey, I could possibly be the youngest U.S. Open champion. I'm more about, hey, hit solid shots and give myself a good run for it.”
"When we're out here, we're not thinking about who's 18 or who's in their 40s, we're all golfers at the end of the day. But experience, I think you can't take that away from any player. That's what can really help you through these pressure situations. And I think that is the big thing, I think, that has changed since three, four years ago.”
Much talk in the locker room this week has been around how different this week’s venue is compared to a typical US Open course, as Ko acknowledged when asked how the layout matches with her game.
“I'll let you know Sunday. I hope so, but I feel like this is a different style of golf course to the previous U.S. Opens I've played. It's not like right after the fairway there is dirt kind of like Pinehurst, or very long rough like Sebonic. It's a very different U.S. Open course to what I've played. But I think this course opens up to a lot of players. It's not only for a long hitter. It's not only for somebody that's going to hit it dead straight off the tee, like what was required at Sahalee. I think this opens up for a lot of the players here, and that's why it's going to be hard to choose who the winner is, even before going into the championship and even until the last ball drops on the last hole.”
Of the other Australasians in the field this week, there is a four strong contingent competing at Cordevalle, and it would be no surprise to see any one of them in contention come Sunday.
Karrie Webb, who won the title in 2000 at the Merit Club in Illinois by 5 strokes, and even more impressively at Pine Needles in South Carolina in 2001 by 8 strokes, will be playing in her 21st US Women’s Open this week.
Webb has not been at her best so far in 2016, but in recent weeks we have seen enough to indicate that her best isn’t too far away. The Queenslander has a fantastic record at the US Open and a reputation for excelling on tough courses and in tough conditions. There is a lot on the line this week for the 41-year-old, she needs a lot to go her way if she is to fulfil her dream of qualifying for the Australian Olympic team to compete in Rio next month.
The dynamic duo of Minjee Lee and Su Oh will be competing in their 3rd and 2nd US Opens respectively, and will be looking for improvements on last year’s performance in Pennsylvania when they both missed the halfway cut.
The talented pair of youngsters have been in outstanding form coming into the tournament and would appear to have every chance of contending this weekend.
The fourth ALPG member competing this week is talented 24-year-old New Zealander Liv Cheng, who will be playing in her very first US Women’s Open.
The 2016 US Women’s Open will be broadcast live on FoxSports 2 from 5:00am (AEST) Friday morning.
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