If Lydia Ko is feeling any pressure after being labeled the favourite for this week’s ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch it certainly isn’t showing.
The World No.1 amateur, who became the youngest winner of a professional golf event when she claimed the Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open, giggled her way through the media questions today ahead of the fourth New Zealand Open like it was a fun day out from school.
She handled all of the queries on her life and her love for golf with as much composure as she has shown on the course over the past month where she has made worldwide golf headlines with her performances.
In her likeable, down to earth manner Ko doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about.
“I don’t feel that I am 14 unless someone tells me and I don’t feel like I am World No,1 unless someone says ‘Oh My God you are World No.1’ [laughs] I don’t really think about it. It is unconscious thinking.”
Ko has spent the past two years rewriting the record books in becoming the youngest winner of the following; New Zealand Stroke Play, New Zealand Amateur, Australian Amateur and a professional event (both men and women). Her incredible record is opening doors for her game to prosper.
“I get to play better tournaments because I am World No.1 but when I am out there playing in tournaments I don’t feel like I am anything special or the World No.1. I am just a golfer competing to try and win the tournament.”
In her previous two New Zealand Women’s Open she has placed tied 7th for seventh in 2010 and was fourth last year at Pegasus. And on the back of this record and her recent form where she finished tied 19th at the Handa Australian Women’s Open at Royal Melbourne, Ko expects another strong showing. But she was surprised yesterday to see news that the TAB had labeled her as the favourite.
“When I looked at the article I was like ‘Woah [laughs], why me? I guess people are getting more interest in me and that is good. Hopefully I can come close [laughs]. My first goal is to make the cut. I came fourth last year and that was a pretty good placing. I am hoping for a top 10.”
Ko has done well to not let her achievements go to her head. She could easily feel like a rock star at her school Kristin College on Auckland’s North Shore as she is being more readily recognized.
“From the middle of last year people began noticing me and saying ‘Oh My God that’s Lydia Ko.’ It’s good and in a good way to be popular.”
But the last few weeks of making a name for herself in the world of amateur golf media profile is taking its toll, with the. The 14-year-old slept for most of the day after arriving into Christchurch from Melbourne on Monday morning.
“I am really tired. I think I have just been playing way too much tournaments. This is my fifth tournament in a row and it is a lot of golf. My first week was where I played the Australian Amateur which was eight days in a row and then 36 holes in the final. I am not mentally tired because of a lot of expectation on me but more physically tired from playing so much. But I am still enjoying it and I played good the past couple of weeks so when you play well you enjoy it.”
Following this week’s championship Ko will represent New Zealand at the Riversdale Cup and then play an LET event in China before returning home for the NZ amateur tournaments.
She and her team have a planned and measured approach as they look to join the play for pay ranks in a few years’ time.
“It’s not a hurry I think, In three or four years. I want to develop my game to a different level. Play like a professional. I have just played four pro events as an amateur. My coach Guy [Wilson] and my parents are not hurrying me to turn pro. I don’t think your game can be perfect. It’s in an ok to good state at the moment. I it just needs a few twitches and tweaks.”
It is frustrating for Ko to not earn the money she has won from winning like she did at the Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open but you get the feeling that money is not going to be an issue in this young prodigy’s life.
“Like at the NSW Open it’s not a big event but I would’ve got $18,000 if I was professional but I got $1000 for being the leading amateur.”
So what would she be buy if she had $18,000?
“I’d buy a lot of dogs. [laughs]”
It summed up that Lydia Ko is still a young 14 year old at heart even if she doesn’t feel like one. If she handles the tournament this week as relaxed as she did all of the media’s questions today then she’ll be a pretty good bet to deliver on her favourite status.