World No. 2 Lydia Ko has delivered the news that all New Zealand golf fans have been waiting and hoping to hear: she will play the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open in Christchurch.
The 17-year-old superstar will headline the international field coming to the Clearwater Golf Club for the sixth staging of the championship from February 27 to March 1.
Ko, who won three times on the LPGA Tour in 2014 to claim the Race to CME Globe Points Race in her rookie season, will look to capture her second National Open when she tees it up in front of the expected massive galleries.
Ko said that she is “really excited” to come home and play the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open.
“There is nothing like playing in front of my home fans and this makes this tournament one of my favourite events of the year,” she said. “I can’t wait to be back home with some good friends and family, and hopefully have a chance to win my National Open for a second time.”
The former World No.1 amateur won her first National Open in 2013 and looked like she would go back-to-back, however a course record 63 by South Korean Mi Hyang Lee saw Ko finish second by just one shot.
It is a huge boost for New Zealand Golf to have Ko support her National Open – a co-sanctioned event on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG) Tour.
“This is wonderful news for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open and for golf in general in New Zealand,” said Dean Murphy, the Chief Executive of New Zealand Golf.
“Lydia is a fantastic ambassador for New Zealand on the world stage and it means so much to the golfing community that she has made coming home to play in her National Open a priority.”
The International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS HANDA) was founded by Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa to support charitable causes throughout the sporting world and Murphy recognised his part in securing Ko for the event.
“I must acknowledge the ongoing support of ISPS, Dr Handa and the Christchurch City Council. The generosity of Dr Handa in particular has enabled this tournament to become the great spectacle it is today and I acknowledge the key role Dr Handa played in helping to encourage Lydia to participate.”
Murphy said it wasn’t an easy decision for the young superstar as she was looking to get off to the perfect start on the LPGA Tour season with the Honda LPGA Thailand event which clashes with the National Open, but he added her strong ties with New Zealand and New Zealand Golf were key factors in the decision.
“Lydia loves coming home and she really appreciates the support she gets when she plays here. She is plying her trade on the LPGA Tour so this event doesn’t help her in that regard, but she has shown her loyalty again to New Zealand and made a huge effort to be home.
“It goes without saying that we are unbelievably proud of what Lydia has achieved on the world stage and to have her home, playing the National Open in 2015 is going to be incredible. I am like many people and I can’t wait to see her tee it up at Clearwater.”
Ko had a phenomenal rookie year on the LPGA Tour in 2014 picking up three victories, 12 additional top-10 finishes and was named the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. She capped off a fabulous season by winning both the CME Group Tour Championship and the season long Race to the CME Globe.
A high calibre field has once again been assembled for the 2015 ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open. Three former champions, France’s Gwladys Nocera, England’s Laura Davies, and Australian Kristie Smith are confirmed starters, along with Ko.
Nocera, who won the inaugural event back in 2009 had a fantastic 2014 season on the Ladies European Tour. The 39-year-old captured her 13th LET title when she went wire-to-wire to win the Hero Women’s Indian Open. She posted another eight top 10 results in her 20 events to finish second on the Order of Merit with €233,288.65.
Davies, the 2010 NZ Open champion, has had her best year for a number of years. Davies, who is being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, finished 11th on the LET Order of Merit with €106,565.32 with two top-10 finishes from her 11 starts.
Her best finish was third at the Helsingborg Open. On the LPGA she was in contention at the Mizuno Classic in Japan and finished tied for 4th. Davies finished 68th on the LPGA Money to secure her full card for 2015.
For Smith, she will be coming fresh into the 2015 ALPG season. She hasn’t played a great deal of golf during 2014 after deciding to spend time at home in Perth. However, she is such a talented player, if she comes with her game in good shape, she could easily take home another title.
All four players will be ones to watch, however the calibre of players is very high with no less than 15 Ladies European Tour (LET) winners and three LPGA Tour winners in the field.
Players to also keep an eye on include Americans Cheyenne Woods, Beth Allen, Alison Walshe, Canadian Lorie Kane, England’s Florentyna Parker, South African Stacy Lee Bregman and Australians Stacey Keating, Nikki Campbell, Sarah Kemp, Smith and recently turned professional Su Oh.
But the local crowds will come to see Ko who will spearhead the New Zealand challenge and look to overcome the world-class field in front of her home fans.
Tournament Promoter Bob Tuohy, of Tuohy Associates, was rapt that Ko had chosen to return to Clearwater.
“It is a major coup for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open to have Lydia in the field and we are delighted to have her back,” said Tuohy. “It is hard to sum up the impact she makes on this tournament and we are very excited to see her challenge for the title once again.”