Lydia Ko's teen modesty an abiding virtue

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013
Lydia Ko
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
HIGH PRAISE: New Zealand Open favourite, Angela Stanford, says Lydia Ko (pictured) is a tremendous talent.

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Much has changed in Lydia Ko's life since her history-making win at the New South Wales Open a year ago.

But as the 15-year-old sets out to defend her title at the Oatlands Golf Club in Sydney today, one thing remains constant - her modest attitude.

"I have to think again if I actually really am the defending champion of the tournament," Ko says, with her trademark giggle.

"It was a great feeling to win this event last year but it was more of a shock than anything.

"I am so honoured to play against the top pros. I really enjoy competing with them and I try and enjoy the moment."

Then 14, Ko made international headlines 12 months ago when she won the three-round Australian tour (ALPG) event by four shots to become the youngest winner of a professional golf tournament, men or women, breaking the mark of Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa, who first won at 15 years and 8 months.

It sparked an incredible year. She won the US Amateur, retained her No 1 amateur ranking, finished top amateur in the US and British Opens, her first majors, and most notably won the Canadian Open by four shots, becoming the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour, regarded as the top professional tour in the world.

The Korea-born Kiwi doesn't see herself as a big name in the world of women's golf but she undoubtedly is, and there will be extra attention on her this weekend as she looks to again mix it with the top pros.

English legend Laura Davies, who has won 82 titles worldwide, LPGA player Sarah Kemp, Frenchwoman Gwladys Nocera, 2011 champion Caroline Hedwall and New Zealand Women's Open champion Lindsey Wright are all in the field.

But they won't daunt Ko, who enjoys the short-ish Oatlands layout. She nearly won there at the age of 13 in 2011 but made bogey to Hedwall's birdie on the 54th hole to lose by one shot, before claiming the title last year.

Her coach, Guy Wilson, said yesterday that the course suited her eye.

"It's hilly and reminds her a bit of Pupuke, where she grew up playing," he said.

Wilson said Ko was playing well after a summer break, despite last week's surprise third-round 2 and 1 loss to Australian Jo Charlton at the unsuccessful defence of her Australian Amateur title, when Charlton caught fire and Ko had an off-day on the greens with half a dozen lip-outs.

European tour pros Cathryn Bristow and Lynnette Brooky, Caroline Bon, Emily Perry, Phillis Meti and seasoned professional Marnie McGuire, who is making a comeback, are the other Kiwis in action in the 54-hole even. 

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