Golf fans will get the chance to watch the latest sensation in women’s golf in action when 15 year-old Lydia Ko plays in this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The precocious New Zealander comes into the Championship having won this year’s US Women’s Amateur Championship and then becoming the LPGA Tour’s youngest ever champion when she won the CN Canadian Open at the age of 15 years, 8 months and 2 days and her fellow competitors at Hoylake have no doubt she has the talent to become the first amateur to win a Major since Catherine Lacoste at the 1967 US Women’s Open.
Tiger Woods recently suggested that Ko was a far better player than he had been at the same age and veteran LPGA player Stacy Lewis was equally impressed when she was paired with the New Zealander during her triumphant final round in Canada where she closed with a fine 67 to finish three shots ahead of Inbee Park.
“I have told my friends the Sunday I got to play with her (Ko) was one of the coolest days I’ve ever had on a golf course,” said Lewis. “I didn’t play well. I didn’t win the tournament but it was great to watch.
“The way she played the final round she looked as if she had been there before and knew exactly what she was doing. She didn’t get nervous all day. She played great and the fans were pulling for her and getting louder and louder of very hole.
“She won already so she’s good enough to win here,” Lewis added.
The American went on to say the one thing that might count against Ko this week is her lack of experience playing on a British Links and that is something Ko herself is aware of.
She did compete at last year’s Astor Trophy at Fairhaven and then at the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush but admits she has still got to come to terms with the vagaries of seaside golf in this country.
“I reckon it’s one of the hardest courses I have ever played and it’s so different to what I’m used to,” she said. “It was very windy. On the first hole I hit my tee shot into the right rough, my second shot into the rough and my third into the right rough. I consider myself quite a straight hitter so it has got to be quite tough. We have a few links courses back at home but nothing like this.
“I’ll just be trying to play my best and hopeful I’ll be able to make the cut and we’ll go from there.”
Lewis herself will start out among the favourites after winning twice on this year’s LPGA Tour and accumulating a further ten top-10 finishes. She missed the cut on her first appearance in the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2009 but has subsequently come tied-31st and tied-11th and believes she now has the know-how to cope with the conditions.
“This style of golf is so different to what I’m used to,” said the 27 year-old Texan who suffered from scoliosis as a child and had to wear a back brace 18 hours a day for over seven years in order to correct a curvature in her spine.
“It takes some time to learn the shots and how to cope with the conditions. It’s kind of been a learning process for me but I’m more comfortable than I used to be. I have been practising bump-and-runs around the greens and I think you’ll see a lot of putts from off the greens if the conditions stay like this.
Japan’s Ai Miyazato also arrives on Merseyside in confident mood after claiming two titles on this year’s LPGA Tour and puts her impressive form that down both to her short game and to the fact she is now totally comfortable with the lifestyle in the west.
“My short game has been pretty solid all year and I’m really enjoying life,” said the Japanese superstar who is accompanied by a posse of photographers wherever she goes. “This is my seventh year on the LPGA tour and I feel as if everything is coming together. I’m trying to be more like myself than I used to be and I really enjoy the atmosphere of this tournament. I know I’m going to enjoy it.”
Michelle Wie finished tied third in the 2005 Ricoh Women’s British Open as a 14 year-old amateur and hopes a return to Hoylake where she played a practice round ahead of the 2004 Curtis Cup at Formby will help her to regain the sort of form that has seen her win two LPGA Tour titles and become the youngest player to finish in the top10 of an LPGA Tour event at the age of 13 years, 5 months, 19 days.
“It has definitely been a rough year for me,” she admitted after notching just one top-10 finish all season. “But links golf is a good way to shake things up with the wind blowing at 20 miles an hour.
“I think this was the first links course I played in my entire like,” she added. “I have lots of good memories here. I remember a lot of the holes and Liverpool’s a great city. There’s so many ethnic restaurants and there’s so much to do. I’m really loving it so far.”
Wie is in a perfect position to assess the sort of pressures Ko is feeling as a 15 year-old making her way within the women’s game and has no doubt the young New Zealander will cope with all the pressures involved.
When asked whether she thought Ko would find it difficult to acclimatise to the spotlight she said: “Not really. I’m sure she’s having a blast. I think it’s great what she did winning and everything like that. I haven’t met here yet but I respect what’s she’s done and am looking forward to meeting.
She was then asked what it felt like to be described by Ko as her childhood hero.
“I makes me feel like a 80s rock star,” she laughed. “But I think it’s great. She’s really fantastic. She’s got incredible talent and hopefully we will get to play together soon.”