Teen sensation Lydia Ko outshone two of golf's marquee names on Thursday when the 15-year-old phenom fired a 10-under 63 to take a one-shot lead in the opening round of the Australian Women’s Open.
Fresh off her third win in a professional tournament earlier this week at the New Zealand Open, the South Korean amateur who lives in New Zealand ran away from playing partners No. 1 Yani Tseng and former prodigy Michelle Wie in a round that included 11 birdies and an eagle.
Ko’s score was the best round in relation to par-73 on the LPGA Tour since Ai Miyazato posted a 63 in the opening round of the 2010 Tres Marias Championship. It was also five and 11 shots better than the top-ranked Tseng (5-under) and Wie (+1), respectively.
“I was pretty nervous when I saw the draw that I was playing with two of the big names,” Ko told reporters after her round at Royal Canberra Golf Club. “But I mean the weather was beautiful, I think we all enjoyed our time out there.”
Ko, who seems to set new records each time she steps on a golf course, was the youngest player -- man or woman -- to win a professional tournament when she captured last year’s New South Wales Open. It took her about a year to overturn Lexi Thompson’s stint in the archives as the youngest golfer to win an LPGA event, when she earned the 2012 Canadian Open. Her win in New Zealand set the same record on the Ladies European Tour.
Despite outshining Tseng, the hottest golfer on the planet observed how fortunate she was to witness the way her competitor comported herself on the course.
“It was pretty inspiring, she was in the fairway bunker, or the trees and gets it out, I said to my caddie Stephen, 'That is why she is No. 1,’” Ko said with a laugh. “Very inspiring stuff.”
Ko, who has said she would like to attend Stanford University, also took the opportunity to chat with Wie about her decision to forego a full-time golf career in favor of earning a Stanford degree.
“She has always been my favorite player and I've always just said hello and that's about it,” said Ko. “But being able to play with her was very exciting and you don't get that many chances to play with the person you look up to.”
Wie, the first person to congratulate Ko on her eagle on the par-5 15th, acknowledged that she felt her advancing years (she’s all of 23) as she watched the on-course exploits of the younger Ko.
“Michelle [said] Lydia told her that she watched Michelle play when she grew up, and Michelle is like, ‘I'm not that old!’” Tseng said to laughter. “So it is kind of very funny.”
Ko is playing for her fourth career professional victory and second in two weeks but one might never guess from her demeanor how she has made the golf world sit up and take notice.
“You can tell that she is very relaxed, I don't think she even knew that after 13 holes she has only made one par,” Tseng said. “Me and Michelle were going, ‘She has only made one par! And she could shot 59 today, we are going to see history today!’ but she made bogie on No. 8 but was still a good day for her.”
Ko, who plays with a confidence and maturity well beyond her years, was not about to get ahead of herself on Thursday with fantasies about posting a magical 59.
“Not really because I've played good before and then gone triple par, bogie -- no -- triple, double bogie in the last three rounds before,” she said. “So I didn't really think of what I was going to shoot, I just took it one shot at a time.”
Ko, who is eligible for this year’s majors, thanks to her U.S. Amateur win, may follow in Thompson’s footsteps and seek LPGA membership before she turns the requisite age of 18.
"We may go down the road of petitioning the LPGA to say that we want to turn pro early or do we wait until she is 18?" Guy Wilson, who has coached Ko since she was six, told Iain Carter after the New Zealand triumph. "She's got some big goals this year and I think if they go alright she may look to turn pro later this year."