ANOTHER week, another golfing superstar hits Scotland. Like Jordan Spieth, Lydia Ko is the world No 2. Like the American, the Kiwi is a credit to her sport. Her only problem in a cosy press conference ahead of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open was that fact she was “still trying to get used to the accents”. She answered every question with the same maturity as Spieth did at St Andrews last week. She has the same impressive attitude as him, too.
Ko’s presence at Dundonald Links, where the £360,000 event gets under way today, is a real coup. It’s her first LET tournament on European soil. She’s the equivalent of Phil Mickelson playing in the men’s Scottish Open. The 18-year-old is here for exactly the same reason as “Lefty” was at Gullane a fortnight ago. Having been moved to a new slot on the schedule, the Ladies Scottish Open is now a perfect warm-up for the Women’s British Open, taking place next week at Turnberry. “I’m super excited about the two weeks,” admitted Ko to a handful of Scottish scribes in a tiny Portacabin, a scene that was surely a far cry from the media circus that has become part of her everyday life since she started breaking records left, right and centre, including her becoming the game’s youngest-ever world No 1 at 17 in February.
“It’s cold, that’s probably the biggest first impression, but it’s great to be back when there’s so much history here in Scotland, the home of golf. The only time I’ve played here was in 2013, in the British Open at St Andrews. So it’s good to be back in Scotland, and the British Open is always something we look forward to. We hardly ever get to play over here. I like links golf. Without a doubt it’s very difficult and challenging, but it’s part of it. If the British Open was dead calm it wouldn’t be the same. The long grass, the pot bunkers, it’s all part of the British Open. We know it’s going to be tough to make par, but that’s what we look forward to.”
Dundonald Links, Loch Lomond’s sister course, has lots of pot bunkers. One, at the back of the par-3 11th, is arguably the nastiest of nasty bunkers in Scottish golf. It could claim a few victims if the buffeting breeze for the last day of practice on the Ayrshire coast is a taste of what’s to come in the 54-hole event. “I’ll try my best out there, but it’s a pretty tough course,” acknowledged Ko, who was a 14-year-old amateur when she won the New South Wales Open in 2012 and added two more victories in professional events before joining the paid ranks in the autumn of 2013. “It’s not going to be easy – not ten-under-par every day! But I think this week will be great preparation for me for Turnberry. I’ve never played a pro-am in an official tournament, so I think it should be a lot of fun.”
Without a doubt, Ko is the star attraction here. Her strike rate, after all, is probably the best-ever in the game for someone so young, having chalked up 11 professional victories worldwide yet only turning 18 in April. It was nice, though, to hear she hadn’t let all that success go to her head by admitting she was actually left feeling a bit starstruck by Cardiff-born Hollywood actor Andrew Howard, one of the amateurs playing in the 54-hole event. “I’ve seen him on TV,” she said of the Band of Brothers star, “and to get to see him here is pretty cool. I walked past him yesterday, and I was like, ‘do you look like what you are on TV’, and I said ‘yip’. I still get very awestruck, even when I see PGA Tour players. I was at the US Open last year, and Bill Haas said ‘hello’ and I didn’t know what to do. It was really cool that he knew me.”
Ko lost the world No 1 spot to Inbee Park when she missed her first cut in 54 events when making an early exit from the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship just over a month ago. Even the best players are allowed the odd blip, though, and, in fairness, Ko is still getting used to being in the media spotlight all the time. “The better I play the more media attention I get,” she said. “I wish I didn’t have to do it all. But it’s part of it.” Her rivals over the next three days, when admission is free, include world No 7 Suzann Pettersen, Scottish No 1 Catriona Matthew, LET money-list leader Gwladys Nocera and English teenager Charley Hull.
A member of GB&I’s winning Curtis Cup team at Nairn in 2011, Hull was Europe’s No 1 last year and describes the start to her professional career as a “bit of a blur”. Now she’s got her sights set on creating the sort of rivalry with Ko that is in prospect for Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the men’s game. “We’ve had a couple of tournaments this year when we’ve gone head-to-head in Australia and New Zealand,” said the 19-year-old from Kettering. “That was good and hopefully there will be more of those in the future.”