Lydia Ko brings star factor to NZ PGA
Today's addition of Lydia Ko brings star billing to the New Zealand PGA Championship at The Hills.
While the 15-year-old features in the PGA Challenge, the amateur offshoot from the professional men's event, the significance of Ko's arrival was best described yesterday by organising committee chairman John Hart.
"She's one of the biggest three names in world golf at the moment, up there with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods," he said.
Since winning two professional events last year, Ko has gone from being a name known among Kiwi golf circles to a prodigy commanding international media interest.
Winning the national women's title this year before two world-class performances overseas, one of which saw the Auckland schoolgirl challenge for the Australian Open title against world number one Yani Tseng, even Ko admits things are really starting to ramp up.
Fame has come knocking.
"Yeah, I can see by my Twitter followers. I wake up and there's another 85," Ko said at a press conference yesterday.
"I can see that the biggest thing is through media. This is not even a women's tournament and they want me to do a press conference.
"I think the media is the biggest one and also people recognising me. They might walk by and they're staring at me, and I'm like 'why are they staring at me?' I think they're confused if it is actually me."
Modesty, maturity and coolness under pressure have become something of a Ko trademark, with even established professionals stunned by her relaxed demeanour on the biggest of stages.
But, she is human after all.
"I do feel pressure, but I'm not sure why I don't show it. I do get nervous, but lots of people say I don't show it," she said.
"For the pro's one shot is a lot of money, it's serious. But as an amateur it makes it a bit more fun."
This week's homecoming marks the end of a tough competitive window and a fair amount of international travel before resuming for the first major of the year, April's Kraft Nabisco Championship in California.
Sandwiched in between is a fair amount of schoolwork. But this week for Ko is about having fun.
"Most of my tournaments are pretty serious, but here I'm just out for fun, it's really a men's tournament," she said.
"I don't really need to play good golf in a serious way. I'm just going to enjoy my time out here. I don't get to see men's golf that often and there's so many international players out here I can learn stuff as well.
"I've got the Kraft Nabisco coming up and I've missed a lot of school. I'm pretty much be concentrating on training and lots of school work."
Joining Ko today in the PGA Challenge are Sir Bob Charles, for cricketer Sir Ian Botham rugby icons George Gregan, Nick Farr-Jones and Justin Marshall's and Olympic rowing champion Mahe Drysdale.