By: Mark Hayes & Martin Blake (Golf Australia)
Never before has a 17-year-old applied instructions so aptly as Lydia Ko, the youngest ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open champion.
Ko, as has become her custom, set another swag of records today in holding off Korean Amy Yang by two shots to win on the fabled Royal Melbourne Composite Course.
The win, Ko’s sixth on the LPGA Tour and fourth national championship after two in Canada and one in her native New Zealand, will help consolidate her position atop the Rolex Rankings.
But it was the method by which she lived coach David Leadbetter’s instructions to be taller, cooler and smarter that made most who witnessed sense it won’t be anywhere near her last.
“We’ve been working on my swing and ‘be tall’ is the part in my swing where I shouldn’t dip my head and I would say my height is 5’3”.7, so he said ‘Lydia, you were 4’11” the other day’.
“He told me to keep my height and said (I was) 5’3”.8’ and I was like, ‘Ok, I’m getting taller’. We were talking about that in the sense of ‘be tall’.
“Be cool was because we discussed that it was going to be hot and also be cool in the head too, be smart, play safe when you need to and then be aggressive.
“Play smart was really the biggest thing he told me at the beginning of this week.”
And it’s where she’s a cut above the rest of the golfing world.
Ko defies her birth certificate.
She has hands of a golfing surgeon and the mind of canny veteran.
Several times during her round she was placed under extreme pressure from Yang and a host of chasers.
Yet each time she responded with aplomb in holding off Yang, Ariya Jutanugarn, while Perth’s Minjee Lee fired a 72 to finish at -1 and top Australian, tied seventh.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s cool that I’m actually on the LPGA as a tour member as a 17-year-old and … to win here is amazing.
“It’s been so much fun playing here. It’s pretty awesome. I feel so fortunate that I can play these great tournaments at these great golf courses and travel around the world.
“That’s the most important thing, that I’m having fun and I’m getting all these great opportunities.”
Ko began shakily, uncharacteristically so.
She made a bogey at the first after coming up short at the par-four, then three-putted the par-five second for a par after hitting the green in two.
All that changed on the third, a driveable par-four in the classic Royal Melbourne mould, when she chipped in for eagle to regain the outright lead.
But she was on the rollercoaster, at least by her amazingly steady standards. At the short par-four eighth, her wedge shot hammered through the green and down into a deep swale behind the putting surface with virtually no chance of getting up and down.
The Kiwi tried a flop shot but it came back to her, and acknowledged her mistake later. A more conservative bump-and-run shot up the bank left her with a curling 3m putt for a bogey. She made it, which tells you a lot about her mentality.
“After I hit the shot, I said, ‘I should have just hit that (second) shot the first time’,” she said.
“Even if I didn’t make a par, it’s an easier bogey and I had to work really hard for that bogey.