Photo courtesy of Photosport
Hometown favourite Lydia Ko will head into tomorrow’s opening round of the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open at Windross Farm Golf Club in a confident mood despite her lacklustre 2017 season on the LPGA Tour.
The 20-year-old has been buoyed by a sudden return to form in recent weeks after finishing second to Lexi Thompson at the Indy Women in Tech Championship 3 weeks ago, followed by a third-place finish in her most recent start at The Evian Championship.
“I don’t think I’d call myself the favourite [this week],” she said. “It is nice to have played well the last couple of events coming into my national open. I was struggling the last couple of months.
“If you start getting the tops-10s and being in contention those are the things that build your confidence. Everyone is so talented out here it is the little things like confidence that make the difference.”
In a huge upgrade for the tournament this year, the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open will be sanctioned by the US LPGA Tour, and for the first time will be played in Ko’s hometown of Auckland. Ko has also taken on the role as tournament host this week, and huge galleries are expected for the four days of the tournament.
Ko said that having an LPGA Tour event in New Zealand for the first time was “really cool” but would not give her a huge advantage as she looks to end a 14 month winless streak that dates back to the Marathon Classic in Ohio in July 2016.
“I don’t think there is a huge advantage playing in New Zealand. The big thing for me is I am going to be pumped to see a lot of fans out there. Playing at home, that is a really cool thing. But I don’t think being here will necessarily be a huge difference. It is going to be like any other LPGA event.
“To have some of the best female golfers out here and an LPGA event is great for golf in New Zealand. I’m pretty excited. Hopefully a lot of people are going to come out and watch.”
“To be able to play in front of a home crowd and some of my friends that have actually never watched golf before is going to be great,” said Ko after the Pro-Am today.
“It is really cool to see some familiar faces. I’m hoping a lot of kids come out with 16 and under getting free admission. Hopefully they’ll get inspired by watching us play.”
The former world no. 1 is the major drawcard at Windross Farm course this week.
A relaxed Ko, a 14-time winner on the LPGA tour, endured wind and rain in a practice round on Tuesday but played in more benign conditions during today’s pro-am.
“I got to see how the course plays in different situations. I think the weather will be a huge factor. There are not that many trees or things to block the wind if it blows.
“It is pretty generous off the tee. There is always a side that you can miss on, you are going to have that in the back of your mind. But I think the greens are going to be the hardest thing. Because it is such a new golf course it is firm. If you are coming in with longer clubs obviously it is going to be tricky to hold the greens.
“This is not an easy golf course. I feel like there are elements where it is going to get tricky.”
The tournament field this week also includes seven Major winners, including current KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner Danielle Kang and former world number one Yani Tseng. Kang also has the assistance of another famous Kiwi this week, with Steve Williams carrying the bag for the world number 22.
Of the ALPG members in the field Katherine Kirk and Su Oh have both arrived in Auckland in great form and appear to be genuine contenders this week.
Kirk claimed her first LPGA victory in more than 7 years earlier this year when winning the Thornberry Creek LPGA Championship in Wisconsin, followed up by a third-place finish at the final major of the year at The Evian Championship.
Kirk’s first impressions of the Windross Farm layout have been nothing but positive.
"We play links golf only at the British Open and the Scottish Open really. There are a few links courses in the US although we don’t typically play them on the LPGA Tour so I am loving it this week. I played the front nine yesterday and the back nine today and love the layout and think it is going to be a great week.”
There is no doubt that Kirk has both the credentials and the experience to deal with the windy and potentially wet conditions forecast later in the week.
“Yeah, I think the forecast isn’t great, maybe the rain on the weekend too. We’re going to get it all, sunshine on Friday and then maybe some wind and rain on the weekend. We know that golf’s an outdoor sport; you've got to be prepared for every condition. It’ll definitely make it harder. We’re kind of used to all the elements.”
Kirk’s Australian compatriot Su Oh has long been touted as a potential star of the LPGA Tour, and in just her second season on tour is starting to find her feet playing week in and week out against the best players in the world. Oh’s last 3 finishes on the LPGA Tour are T29th, T19th and T14th at the Evian Championship 2 weeks ago, and it would be no surprise to see the talented Victorian’s name featuring on the leaderboard come the weekend.
Of the other New Zealander’s in the field this week Cathryn Bristow has been chalking up the frequent flyer points and playing some solid golf in recent weeks. The Aucklander finished tied for 13th at the PTT Thailand LPGA Masters two weeks ago in Bangkok, before heading to Malaga in Spain for the Andalucia Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino, where she finished a very creditable 17th in a quality field which included several LPGA Tour players.
The journey from Malaga back home to Auckland is far from a short trip, just under 20,000 kilometres to be precise, and with a time difference of 11 hours the trip home was always going to be a long and tiring one for the 32-year-old.
Bristow arrived home in Auckland early this morning after the marathon trip which included three stops, and was planning to do some light practice in preparation for tomorrow’s first round having played a practice round at Windross Farms prior to her trip to Bangkok.
The 132-strong field this week will be competing for the Bessie Fullerton-Smith Trophy along with a share of the NZ$1.85 million prizemoney on offer this week, the richest purse on offer for a golf event in New Zealand.
Play will begin at 7:25am tomorrow morning with the final group teeing off at 2.05pm.
After 36 holes the field will be cut to the top 70 players plusties.
Live scoring can be found at alpg.com.au
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