Even before hitting a ball in anger in this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, Lydia Ko has a reason to remember her first visit to Gullane. “I hit my career-longest (drive) on No 10 on Monday - it went like 347 yards, which is outrageous for me,” revealed the Kiwi in illustrating how the women are benefitting just as much from a fast-running course in East Lothian as the men did here a fortnight ago.
In that event, Rickie Fowler also smashed one down the same hole, the mighty blow in his case stretching to 458 yards - one of the longest drives in the history of professional golf. As well as those bouncy conditions, both shots were also aided by the fairway on that hole dropping down fairly steeply towards the green, but that didn’t stop Ko from being tickled by her personal record-breaker.
“I don’t even know what my career-best drive is, but I know I’ve never hit it more than 347 unless I’ve hit like three sprinklers, which is never happening,” said the 21-year-old Kiwi, laughing. “I probably average like 255 yards off the tee, so this was about 95 yards longer than normal.”
This is Ko’s third appearance in the event, having finished fourth on her debut in 2015 at Dundonald Links, where she then missed the cut 12 months ago in foul weather. The tournament’s switch to the east coast has left her feeling at home. “The course is really nice,” she said. “It kind of reminds me of New Zealand when I go out by the water and see other parts of Scotland on the other side and it’s really beautiful out there.”
The $1.5 million event is being played on the same composite course as the men, the only difference being a total yardage of 6,480 compared to 7,133 two weeks ago, when South African Brandon Stone shot a course-record 60 in the last round to claim the title.
“I didn’t get to watch a lot of that event because I think coverage started early in the morning, but I got to watch some of the highlights and to see what Brandon Stone did on that final day with the chance at 59 on the last hole, I think was pretty cool,” admitted Ko.
“I did get to see how the greens were reacting and what kind of shots the guys were playing off the greens. Those are the bigger things you’re looking at rather than how they are taking on that golf course. It’s a good mix of holes. There are some really tricky holes and some holes that are a little bit more straightforward. I think it’s going to be a fun week. I love playing links golf. I didn’t play very well last year, but hopefully I’ll be able to do a little bit better this year.”
The former world No 1 is in fine fettle, having made the cut in 15 out of 16 events this season and getting back to winning ways on the LPGA Tour in March, when she claimed the Mediheal Championship in San Francisco. Her return to form followed a spell when Ko, who has already racked up 20 victories as a professional, made wholesale changes to her support team, including a split from long-time coach David Leadbetter. “I hope I’ve settled down with the changes and I have a solid team around me, which is a great place to be,” she said. “Even if I have a good week, we’re trying to improve and be more consistent. Consistency is the biggest thing in golf, and especially being on Tour and I think that’s what we’ve been trying to work on to simplify things and to be more consistent.
“We’ve been trying to enjoy it and have fun. I think through all this process, I’m not only getting to know more about the other person on the other side but I’m getting to learn more about myself, and things that I thought I didn’t really need or I thought, ‘oh, this is okay’. I feel like, ‘no, you know what, I like this kind of style better’.”
World No 2 Sung Hyun Park from is the top-ranked player in the 156-strong field, while others from that top 15 include third-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn and her sister, as well as reigning Ricoh Women’s British Open champion IK Kim and Cristie Kerr, who now holds the record for most gained by a US player in the Solheim Cup.
“It would be so cool to win in Scotland,” admitted Ko as she set her sights on trying to succeed Korea’s Mi Hyang Lee, who came from eight shots back heading into the weekend to triumph in Ayrshire 12 months ago. Her clubs arrived in Scotland later than her on that occasion - and the same thing has happened again.
“And this year I took business class,” she said, having been reunited with her sticks in time to get a hit over nine holes with them after borrowing a set from a Callway representative to play her only full practice round on Monday. “Maybe economy next year, I think that would be better!”
The 25-year-old is coming off a three-week break and admitted: “My golf is not as good as last year, but because I have such great memories from this tournament, my goal is to restart and refresh from this tournament.”