World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko has been at Clearwater for over a week preparing for this week’s ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.
The 15-year-old from the Gulf Harbour Country Club was offered a place in the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast last week but turned it down to spend more time practicing.
She leads the Kiwi challenge this week alongside the likes of professionals Cathryn Bristow, Caroline Bon, Phillis Meti and Marnie McGuire.
Ko arrived in Christchurch last Tuesday and has been playing the John Darby and Sir Bob Charles designed course every day and in all conditions since Wednesday.
“I am feeling pretty good,” said Ko. “I came here earlier than usual to prepare because I have only played here once and I have never played a tournament here. They asked me to play the Volvik Masters but I decided to have a break and come here early.”
Ko dedication to preparation for this week speaks volumes of how much performing in the NZ Open means to her.
“It is our country’s open. I have played well in other country’s opens but I have never played as well I wanted to here. I think I have played the best when I was like 12 or something.”
Ko finished tied seventh in 2012 at Pegasus in her debut in the event, aged 12, the following year she was tied fourth and only five shots back from the winner Kristie Smith. Last year she held the lead heading into the final round before fading to finish tied 17th.
She wants to live up to her hype this week and perform on home turf.
“It is a pretty important tournament for me because I am a New Zealander and this is the national open. It is not the most important tournament of the year but it is one of the tournaments that I really want to play good at.”
Ko has a remarkable record in professional events. She has played 11 pro tournaments, won two titles and never missed the cut. It is a record that has seen her skyrocket up the world rankings to No.38 as the New Zealand No.1.
“Yeah I did not know that [that she is ranked 38 in the world]. It is pretty cool and a surprise for me. I was top 50 last year and I have gone up even more this year and this is pretty cool. I am still an amateur so it is even better.”
The biggest challenge for Ko this week is going to be quieting the expectation from all corners on her performance. Everywhere she has gone in Christchurch she has seen her image promoting the event.
“I saw the posters in public, Ready Set Ko, it is pretty cool but also sometimes a little embarrassing.”
There is no doubt that Ko will attract a huge gallery. It is something that she is ready for and will look to manage.
“I get a bit of a lift from playing with a big gallery but it makes me want to play better and without me really noticing it. If I don’t play well then I get really angry.”
It is rare for Ko to not play well and get “really angry”.
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.
Also in the field for the championship from February 8 – 10 are 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 that forms the strongest field ever assembled for the NZ Women’s Open, also includes European No. 1 Carlota Ciganda.
Tickets available at the gate.