Star billing for Lydia Ko at British Open
In a sure sign of Lydia Ko's status as one of golf's hottest properties, organisers were quick to throw the 15-year-old Kiwi into a marquee grouping with fellow teen star Lexi Thompson for the opening two rounds of the Women's British Open.
Ko lists Thompson, who is only two years her senior, as one of her idols and she'll get another opportunity to play alongside the American, and Japan's Kaori Ohe, starting with the first round at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, at 6pm today (NZ time).
It's a matchup organisers just could not resist, and it's likely the fans won't be able to, either.
At 12, Thompson became the youngest player to qualify for the US Open. She turned pro at 15 and last year, at 16, became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event.
At least until Ko's stunning Canadian Open victory last month in Vancouver, where, as an amateur, she steamrolled a field including 19 of the top 20 professionals, two weeks after winning the prestigious US Amateur.
It was a performance that had the great Tiger Woods suggesting Ko was a better player at 15 than he had been at the same age.
Ko and Thompson will reel in the crowds, but probably more so in the second round as they are in the first group to tee off the 10th in the first round.
They have played together before, at the Australian Masters in February, and apparently hit it off.
"I look up to a lot of professionals but she is definitely one of them I look up to the most," Ko said of Thompson as she headed for the range at Royal Liverpool yesterday, ahead of her second major.
Ko has attracted media interest from the likes of CNN and the New York Times, she's been the lead story on the official British Open website, and her press conference yesterday was jam-packed.
Management companies have also been hovering, with giant IMG understood to have made itself known this week.
They seem to have taken a liking to Ko, the golfer and the person.
But Ko will require 100 per cent focus on her game from today, with the course expected to provide brutal conditions, both in set-up and weather-wise.
"I reckon it's one of the hardest golf courses I've ever played on," Ko said.
Narrow fairways, long and penal rough, pot bunkers, strong winds and no trees for protection is a recipe for high scores, with Ko's coach and caddie, Guy Wilson, confident the winner come Monday morning (NZ time) will be over-par, even if there is minimal wind.
"That's how tough the course is," he said. "You can lose the ball a foot off the fairway, that's how thick it is."
The expected strong winds won't do much for scoring either, and Ko might well have one of the toughest tasks with an afternoon tee-off in the second round.
After a gruelling schedule in the United States, which also included a top-40 and low amateur status at her first major, the US Open, Ko had a week-long break in the country of her birth, South Korea, before linking up with Wilson in Liverpool.
He has taken time out from his day job at Auckland's Institute of Golf, and Ko said it was comforting he could watch her live, rather than having to email video back after each round. He'll also have a big say in club selection.
Wilson said: "It's going to be, I suppose, my imagination showing her shots that she wouldn't necessarily play, because links golf is such a different environment to what she normally plays in. But she's ready to rock."
Ko's aims have not changed with her recent success - modestly, she simply wants to make the cut and "see what happens".
"I'm not used to playing links golf. You know, if it's a downhill chip and the wind is coming from behind you, it is going to be so tough.
"There will be a lot of bump and runs and keeping shots below the wind as much as possible," she said.
Winning a major in foreign conditions at 15 is unthinkable, but expect Ko to give it a decent crack.
Top three New Zealand performances at the Women's British Open:
1994: Marnie McGuire, 14th, Woburn Golf and Country Club
2003: Lynnette Brooky, 14th, Royal Lytham St Annes
1995: Lynnette Brooky, 19th, Woburn Golf and Country Club
Lydia Ko roll of honour in 2012:
Won Australian Amateur Championship
Won New South Wales Open on ALPG Tour, at 14 becoming the youngest player of either gender to win a professional tour event
Won low amateur honours at the US Women's Open, her first major championship
Won US Amateur Championship, at 15 becoming second youngest winner in 117-year history of the event
Won Canadian Open on the LPGA Tour, at 15 becoming the youngest winner in the tour's 62-year history, fifth amateur to win on tour and first since 1969
Has secured Mark McCormack Medal for the world's top-ranked amateur for a second successive year.
- © Fairfax NZ News