Wunderkind Ko owns the Canberra course
Amateur Lydia Ko in action at the 2013 Women's Australian Open at Royal Canberra. Photo: Colleen Petch
Move over Michelle Wie, there’s a new teenage golf wunderkind in town.
Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko ‘grew up’ idolising Wie, but it was the American who watched on in awe as the New Zealander shot a superb 10-under 63 in round one of the Australian Open at Royal Canberra.
Despite starting with a bogey on the par-four tenth, Ko needed just 30 shots to complete the back nine and her playing partners, Wie and world no.1 Yani Tseng, thought 59 was a real chance.
The world’s top ranked amateur was nine-under through 13 holes, before a bogey on her second-last hole halted her momentum.
She holds a one stroke lead from Colombian surprise packet Mariajo Uribe (nine-under), with Korean Lee Mi Hyang and Japan’s Ayako Uehara at seven-under.
American world no.3 Stacy Lewis was four-under through nine holes to lead the afternoon chasing pack.
Ko’s was outstanding on the green, her round including just 21 putts.
Wie, now 23, also took the golf world by storm as a teenager, but has won just twice on the LPGA Tour.
It takes plenty to impress Tseng these days, but she was stunned by her first glimpse of Ko playing in person.
Incredibly, Ko hit her career best round despite registering three bogeys.
“Me and Michelle Wie were going she’s only made one par [through 13 holes], she can shoot 59, we’re going to see history today,’’ Tseng said.
“She just looks like a child. She still looks 15, but the way she plays golf she looks like a pro.
“I treat her as a pro, but I treat her as a child too.’’
“Michelle was telling me that Lydia told her she watched her play when she was growing up, and Michelle is ‘I’m not that old!’’’
While Wie has struggled with the transition from child prodigy to professional star, Ko gives every impression she will handle the limelight.
Unflappable and downbeat, she seems unaffected by the ever-increasing worldwide exposure she receives.
“You can tell she’s very relaxed,’’ Tseng said.
“Today was the first time playing with her and she hits the ball very well. Her putting was incredible, this green is not that easy to read, and every putt even if she missed she almost made it.
“I think she pushed me a little bit as well. I don’t want to lose.’’
“Five-under is a very good day, very solid round, but playing with Lydia, five-under is like nothing.’’
Ko admitted she had butterflies in the stomach when she learned she’d be playing in the same group as Tseng and one of her idols Wie.
That may have contributed to her opening bogey, but it wasn’t long before she made Tseng look like the amateur.
She hit four straight birdies from holes 11 to 14, and registered an eagle on the par-five 15th by chipping in from 90 metres.
“I was really nervous when I saw the draw, and that I was playing with two big names,’’ Ko said.
“After my bogey on the first hole I thought ‘what’s today going to be like’, but after a couple of birdies I settled in and felt pretty comfortable.’’
Ko said thought thoughts of 59 never entered her head.
“Not really. I’ve played good golf before and gone triple-bogey-double to finish, I didn’t think about what I was going to shoot,’’ she said.
“Playing with Yani was pretty inspiring, it was exciting stuff.
“Michelle has always been my favourite player and I’ve always said hello and that’s pretty much it.
“Today to be able to play with her was very exciting, you don’t get many chances to play with the person you look up to.’’
Ko’s 63 bettered Kristie Smith’s course record nine-under 64, which she registered in the final round of her 2010 Canberra Ladies Classic win.
However, Ko’s round cannot be ratified as a course record, as preferred lies were in place today due to dry and wet patches on course.