Golf: Ko the major draw at NZ Open

Lydia Ko. Photo by Getty
Lydia Ko. Photo by Getty
Last year it was 'Ready, Steady, Ko'. This time around the marketing slogan for the New Zealand Women's Open is 'Here We Ko Again!'.

This week's three-day golf tournament at Clearwater in Christchurch, which has a purse of $334,000, is all about one person: Lydia Ko.

The 16-year-old is arguably the most marketable player in the women's game and the promoters have ran with it this week.

Every poster or sign around town for the tournament has Ko's image emblazoned on it and simply put she is the face of the operation.

Since graduating from her record-setting amateur days, the freshly-minted professional has made a smooth transition to the paid ranks.

She claimed a share of seventh in the first LPGA Tour event of the year in the Bahamas last weekend, while she also won for the first time as a professional at the Swinging Skirts tournament on the LPGA of Korea Tour in December.

Last year New Zealand hoped Ko would win the national open and now there's almost a sense of expectation she should be able to deliver more of the same this time around.

"It's just playing my own game. I can't control what somebody else does and there's a lot of great competition out here and a lot of great players so I can't come out here thinking I'm definitely going to win," Ko said yesterday. (thurs) "So I'm just going to try my best and, like I said, if somebody makes an eagle, that's out of my control."

Being something of a minor celebrity has never bothered Ko, although she admitted there was even more scrutiny around her recently.

"The biggest thing is media attention. People want interviews and more interviews. Before, we said yes, yes, yes, I'll do everything, but now we have to say no. It's a kind no but you can't please everybody. Sometimes I walk along and people stare at me and sometimes I think 'what's wrong' but I think they're just trying to figure it out whether it's me."

And while Ko has her own level of fame, in some aspects she is still your average teenage girl.

After arriving back in New Zealand earlier this week, she barely created a stir at Auckland Airport as Kiwi singer Lorde, who arrived on the flight after, grabbed all the headlines after winning two Grammys.

Despite being two high-flying Kiwi teens, Ko said the pair had never met.

"I wanted to get her autograph but there were a lot of people there," Ko said.

"She's so famous, she's a superstar ... I think I'm not comparable to what she's done and she's pretty amazing."

As for how often she would return to play the Open, which is currently co-sanctioned by the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour and Ladies European Tour, Ko said it would depend on how her calendar shaped up.

"[Currently] tournaments don't clash and hopefully it doesn't. Sometimes it might be hard to come back but it would always be great to come back home and play nice courses like here at Clearwater," she said.

Ko, one of 18 New Zealanders in the field at Clearwater this week, was set to begin her title defence from the 10th tee at 8.05am today, alongside playing partners Charley Hull and Stacey Keating.

by Daniel Richardson of APNZ

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