There is no doubt that Lydia Ko will be the most talked about golfer at Clearwater this week.
The World No.1 amateur, who is World No.38 on the pro rankings after only playing 11 professional events, will once again be the leading New Zealand hope in a world-class field at the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.
The Pinehurst School student, who recently finished runner-up in her title defence of the NSW Open by two shots to Caroline Hedwall, missed the Australian Masters to be fresh and ready for this week.
The 15-year-old from the Gulf Harbour Country Club knows that she is going to play this week with a weight of local expectation on her performance.
“I do feel a bit of pressure as I know people are expecting a whole lot more from me,” said the youngest winner in professional golf history.
“But I have to block it out and concentrate on my game and my game only. It will be quite hard backing up what I achieved in 2012 as it was a great year for me. It's a whole new year and I am going to try and start fresh.”
Ko was always the easiest player on the course to spot at Pegasus in 2012. A massive gallery followed her every shot until the final putt. She faded in the final round from being the third round leader to finish in a share of 17th place.
After playing in major championships last year Ko is much more familiar with big crowds watching her.
“Before, I got really nervous playing in front of big crowds but I'm slowly getting used to it. The New Zealand Open is one of my most important tournaments and I'm always happy to play the Open.”
The ISPS Handa NZ Women's Open hosted by Christchurch has attracted a world-class field including three of the previous four champions of the event and World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko.
Australian Lindsey Wright is unable to defend her title after withdrawing with injury.
Also in the field for the championship from February 8 – 10 at the Clearwater Golf Club are former major champions Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson (both of Sweden).
World No.16 Angela Stanford and Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, are other notable players in a field that will include 32 LPGA Tour Players. The all-star cast will also include European No. 1 Carlota Ciganda. It is the strongest field ever assembled for the NZ Women’s Open.
“It is very exciting. Having a greater field makes me more excited to play. I can't wait to play,” said Ko.
The Canadian Open champion played Clearwater for the first time in the pro-am of the BMW NZ Open where she reeled off eight birdies and a bogey for a seven-under-par 65.
“It was from the ladies, yellow tees so it was playing much easier. I like the course. It will be pretty challenging on the back nine when the wind gets up because there is a lot of water.”
Ko made short work of Pegasus where she finished tied seventh, tied fourth and tied 17th in the three years of the championship there. There will be interest to see how she handles the longer and tighter test at Clearwater.
She is excited by the prospect of becoming the first New Zealander to win the NZ Women’s Open.
“It would mean a lot. It's making history within New Zealand and I would be so proud of myself.”
The ISPS Handa NZ Women's Open is one of a few tournaments that Ko will play this in New Zealand. After her record breaking season in 2012, she has two simple goals to achieve.
“I want to play as many LPGA tournaments as possible and also remain as the World No.1 amateur.”
Tickets for the NZ Women’s Open are available at the gate.
Lydia Ko Fact Box
ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open:
2010 – tied seventh (leading amateur)
2011 – tied fourth (leading amateur)
2012 – tied 17th (runner-up in amateur field)
2012 Record Breaking Year:
1st – Canadian Open, LPGA Tour (first New Zealander and youngest in history)
1st – NSW Open, ALPG and LET Tour (youngest winner in pro history)
1st – Australian Amateur (youngest winner)
1st – US Amateur (first New Zealander to win the event)
Tied 39th – US Open on her major debut (leading amateur)
Tied 17th – British Open (leading amateur)
1st individual at the World Amateur Team’s Championship – (World-record in the event that dates back to 1964 and first NZ woman to achieve this).