COQUITLAM, B.C. – Fifteen-year-old amateur Lydia Ko chased down golf history, and the relative ease in which she became the youngest to win an LPGA Tour event was even more remarkable.
The kid was unflappable and unbeatable in her CN Canadian Women's Open victory, and her goose-bump producing performance in the past four days at the Vancouver Golf Club has experts wondering what is in store for this teenage phenom.
At 15 years, four months and two days, she became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour and first amateur to win since JoAnne Carner in 1969. The World Golf Hall of Fame called after the historic win to request an item from Ko to commemorate the feat. She obliged with her golf glove.
"It feels amazing," said Ko, who was playing on a sponsor’s exemption and closed with an impressive five-under 67. "I broke the youngest record [for a pro tournament win, three months before her 15th birthday] in January at the New South Wales Open and to break another record or being in the history books is amazing.
"It's always awesome to be able to play with the pros."
Ko's final total of 13-under par, in which she hit 62 of 72 greens in regulation, was good for a three-shot victory over South Korean Inbee Park. The latter sank a pitch shot for birdie on the last hole to collect the $300,000 US winner’s cheque that Ko left on the table because of her amateur status.
Despite the win, Ko won’t alter her plan to turn pro until after she completes her final two years of high school at North Harbour back home.
'Way to Ko'
The bespectacled Ko chomped on cherry tomatoes throughout her final round and chugged along with such poise on Sunday. She birdied five of the first six holes on the back nine to separate herself from a field that included 48 of the top 50 money winners on the 2012 LPGA Tour.
She didn't look at leaderboard until she snuck a peek on the 17th green to find out she was five shots clear at the time. A massive gallery showed to watch the whiz kid.
"Way to Ko," was one fan's rallying cry. It was obvious the the spectators wanted to witness the kid make history.
They were giddy taking in her virtuoso performance, which also brought smiles and looks of disbelief to the faces of the LPGA Tour's best.
Ko simply wowed everyone.
She hit the ball long off the tee and her approach shots close all day. Ko began the final round with a slim one-shot lead. But there wasn’t a hint of nervousness in her demeanor.
Shades of Tiger
She wore a red shirt – just like Tiger Woods does on Sunday – chosen by her mother after the aunt who introduced her to the game 10 years ago phoned to say her silver and grey outfit on Saturday looked too dark.
Ko was born in Seoul, South Korea. Her family spent time in both New Zealand and Canada (Ko’s older sister Sura attended school in Toronto at the time), but the family chose Auckland because of the weather.
She has worked with golf coach Guy Wilson since Day 1 in New Zealand and her mother, who walked the course with her daughter all week, often has caddied for Ko in tournaments this summer.
Ko, however, was helped by a couple of locals this week. Scott Rodgers, the head pro at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, B.C. gave her a lesson before the tournament and 63-year-old Vancouver Golf Club member Brian Alexander, a one handicapper, caddied for the young sensation.
"I don't think the win is all about me," she said. "I think it's contributed [by] everyone. You just can't play. From the start you need your coach, your mom, your parents, your support crew. You need all of them. It makes a lot of difference and I want to give my win to them as well.
"I don't think I could have done it by myself," she added. "At the start of the week my shots were a bit ugly to be honest, and I wasn't happy at all. So Scott helped me, and today when I was nervous, Brian was confident about his reads. So it made life a little more simple."
'A remarkable performance'
Rodgers instructed Ko to swing out and through to the target more, and as the week got on she became more comfortable with the tip.
Ko credited Alexander for his local knowledge, especially his input in reading the greens. She also needed his help to lift the rather large trophy in celebration afterwards.
"I didn't do anything," the humble Alexander said. "I just stood back and confirmed [her reads on the green]. It was a remarkable performance."
Her experience in winning the Australian Ladies Amateur, the New South Wales Open (Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour event) and U.S. Women's Amateur this year helped her close the deal on Sunday.
Even though she has missed a lot of school back home, there still is plenty of golf to play for the Grade 11 student this season. Next month, she has the British Women’s Open next month and the World Amateur and this win gains her an invite to the LPGA Tour Titleholders finale.
Jessica Shepley of Oakville, Ont. was the lone Canadian to make the cut. She closed with a one-over 73 to finish at two-over for the event and a tie for 41st.