It will be a battle of the teens at this week’s Gold Coast RACV Australian Ladies Masters in Queensland when two of the world’s hottest young prospects play together for the opening two rounds in the first Ladies European Tour event of the year.
American Lexi Thompson, 16, is grouped with Korean-born New Zealander Lydia Ko, 14 and Australian Kristie Smith, a relative veteran at just 23, for the first 36 holes at RACV Royal Pines Resort and the trio will start from the 10th at 11.50am.
Should a teen win the event, it wouldn’t be the first time. Amy Yang was the last school girl to win the title as a 16-year-old amateur in 2006. That was when the likes of seven-time event winner Karrie Webb and the current World No.1 Yani Tseng were in the field, but many of the competitors feel that the title is wide open in their absence this week.
|Lexi Thompson, aged 16
Thompson, who will turn 17 next Friday, was the youngest ever winner on the LPGA at the Navistar Classic in September then completed victories on both sides of the Atlantic with a second pro victory at the Ladies European Tour’s season-ending Omega Dubai Ladies Masters in December.
World No.1 amateur Ko was the youngest ever winner of an Australian Ladies Professional Golf tournament at the New South Wales Open on Sunday, an achievement which drew worldwide headlines, but she said that she would feel nervous playing with Thompson nonetheless.
“It’s going to be exciting, and I just met her yesterday, and she seemed pretty nice, and I can’t wait,” said Ko, adding: “I mean Kristie and Lexi, I see what they do. They are two big hitters, and I’m a bit short, but Lexi is a head taller than me.”
Ko was the leading amateur in a tie for 12th place at last year’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Melbourne, finishing 60 places better than Thompson, who missed the cut, but the American is more familiar with the Royal Pines course having tied for 42nd last year.
Thompson has not seen Ko play, but said that she had heard impressive anecdotes about the Kiwi: “I didn’t get to see her on TV last week, but I’ve heard so many great things about her and obviously a great accomplishment for her.”
Both players appear destined for great things and will be targeting the professional women’s World No.1 spot in future.
|NSW champion, Lydia Ko, 14
Ko is planning to turn pro in three or four years and her immediate goal is, “Just to make the cut,” but Thompson added: “Yeah, that’s definitely my dream.”
It will be a case of the young guns versus the established stars at the 23rd Gold Coast RACV Ladies Masters.
England’s Laura Davies will be hoping to get her 2012 Ladies European Tour campaign off to the best possible start with a fourth Masters, while Queenslander Katherine Hull will be aiming to build on her 2009 win. Hull and fellow Aussies, Karen Lunn, Lindsey Wright, Frances Bondad, Rebecca Flood, Nikki Garrett and reigning New Zealand Open Champion Kristie Smith will all carry the hopes of the home nation.
They will be joined by a strong list of international stars including two of last year’s Major Winners, US Open champion So Yeon Ryu and the 2011 Kraft Nabisco victor Stacy Lewis.
Hull, Lewis and England’s Melissa Reid will play together at 7.10am, while three time champion Davies is playing with Ryu and Sophie Gustafson in the following group at 7.20am.
The Royal Pines course has been lashed by relentless heavy rain in the lead up to the tournament, but Reid commented: “The greens usually hold up pretty well, usually play target golf and hit the ball at the flag.”
Korean Ryu is competing in her fourth Gold Coast RACV Ladies Masters and is looking forward to a strong showing.
“I really like this golf course, because I feel really comfortable,” she said, adding that the constant rain will make the course a bit tougher to play. “This is my first tournament in 2012 and I have prepared on a lot of things, so hopefully I can play well.”
The tournament features a field of 144 players and is co-sanctioned by the ALPG and Ladies European Tours.