Ko, only 14, but cool as an old pro

If Lydia Ko is feeling pressure after being labeled favourite for the Handa NZ Women’s Open, it certainly isn’t showing.

If 14-year-old Lydia Ko is feeling any pressure after being labeled favourite for this week’s ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open, it certainly isn’t showing.

The World No 1 women’s amateur, who recently made world headlines when she became the youngest-ever winner of a professional golf event at the Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open in Australia, never for a moment showed any stress or strain as she happily giggled and laughed her way through a media conference on Wednesday ahead of the fourth New Zealand Open this weekend.

She handled all the questions fired at her with the kind of easy and relaxed composure you’d expect from an old pro.

It was evident through her press quizzing that the grounded teenager doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about.

“I don’t feel that I am 14 unless someone tells me I am and I don’t feel like I am World No,1 unless someone says ‘Oh My God you are World No.1,” said Ko, laughing out aloud at her answer, before adding, “I really don’t really think about it.”

Ko has spent the past two years rewriting the record books.

She has won New Zealand Amateur Stroke Play, the New Zealand Amateur, Australian Amateur and a professional event – and all this before turning 15.

“I get to play better tournaments because I am World No.1 but when I am out there playing in tournaments I don’t feel like I am anything special or the World No.1. I am just a golfer competing to try and win the tournament.”

In her previous two New Zealand Women’s Opens when she was aged 12 and 13, she has placed tied 7th in 2010 and was fourth last year at Pegasus.

On the back of this record and her recent form where she finished tied for 19th at the Handa Australian Women’s Open at Royal Melbourne, Ko expects another strong showing in New Zealand this week – although her eyebrows shot in surprise yesterday when she noted that she had been labeled the tournament favourite.

“When I looked at the article I was like ‘Woah! why me? I guess people are getting more interest in me and that is good. Hopefully I can come close. My first goal is to make the cut. I came fourth last year and that was a pretty good placing. I am hoping for a top 10.”

Ko has done well not to let her achievements go to her head. Her sky high profile could so easily allow her to feel like a rock star at her school Kristin College on Auckland’s North Shore.

“From the middle of last year people began noticing me and saying ‘Is that Lydia Ko?’ It’s good and in a good way to be popular.”

But making a name for herself is taking a toll. The 14-year-old slept for most of the day after arriving in Christchurch from Melbourne on Monday morning.

“I am really tired. I think I have just been playing way too much tournament golf. This is my fifth tournament in a row and it is a lot of golf. My first week was when I played in the Australian Amateur which was eight days in a row and 36 holes in the final round.

“I am not mentally tired because of ”expectation on me but more physically tired from playing so much. But I am still enjoying it and I played good the past couple of weeks so when you play well you enjoy it.”

Following this week’s championship, Ko will represent New Zealand at the Riversdale Cup and then play in a LET event in China before returning home for more NZ amateur tournaments.

She and her support team have a planned and measured approach as they look forward to her move into the professional ranks in a few years time.

“Were not a hurry I think, In three or four years. I want to develop my game to a different level. Play like a professional. I have just played four pro events as an amateur. My coach Guy [Wilson] and my parents are not hurrying me to turn pro. I don’t think your game can be perfect. It’s in an ok to good state at the moment. It just needs a few twitches and tweaks.”

It is frustrating for Ko to not earn the money she could have won at the Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open, but you get the feeling that money is not going to rule her life.

“Like at the NSW Open it’s not a big event but I would’ve got $18,000 if I was professional. Instead I got $1000 for being the leading amateur.”

So what would she be buy if she had $18,000?

“I’d buy a lot of dogs.”