Best Down Under

ISPS Australian Open LogoLydia Ko at 17 years old became the youngest player to reach the #1 ranking on the LPGA Tour a few weeks ago with a second place finish in the Coates Golf Championship. If anyone had doubts about her credentials at such a young age they were put to bed with an impressive win today of ISPS Handa Australian Open at Royal Melbourne.

Lydia’s Aimpoint putting technique emphasizes her ranking

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Royal Melbourne is a true championship test that has befuddled professionals of both genders with it’s Alister MacKenzie green complexes. This week was no exception as the hot Australian summer presented parched hard and fast fairways and greens stimping a major championship speeds. Lydia played with metronomic patience on the composite par 73 layout with scores of 70-70-72-71 to win at 9-under par.

This was Lydia’s 8th professional win on the LPGA and European Ladies and caps off a 14 month period where she has won 4 times with 18 top 10 finishes in 29 events. She has not missed a cut and won $2,400,00 over that span.

The stretch began with a gripping toe-to-toe 1 shot victory over Stacey Lewis in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced last April. Lydia then added the Marathon Classic in July with a 1 stroke win over So Yeon Ryu. Then she put herself seriously in the #1 ranking mix with a playoff win at the CME Group Tour Championship in November. The only thing missing from her trophy case is a piece of major championship hardware and that cannot be far away.

Since she splashed on the scene with her first LPGA Tour victory as an amateur at age 14 in the CN Canadian Women’s Open Lydia has shown a mature approach to playing that belies her years. Her game resembles the consistency of Annika Sorenstam in her peak years. Lydia has hit 85% of the fairways this year and this week on a Royal Melbourne course with serious fire in it’s belly she has consistently hit 89% of the greens each day.

Ko’s proficiency with hybrids reminds us of Annika’s Callaway Metal Wood Game

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The final day began with Lydia tied for the lead at 7-under with Ariya Jutanugarn and Amy Yang one back at 6-under. It pretty much became a head-to-head competition between Ko and Yang as the rest of the field faded fairly early in the front nine.

Ko asserted herself with an amazing pitch in on the third hole for eagle to take the lead outright at 8-under. She was on cruise control with four straight pars until she hit an approach pitch into the 8th green two steps past the flag only to see the hand of Alister shuttle it off the back of this devious green complex and end up 30 yards over the green in a thatchy lie with an impossible elevator pitch back up to the flag. The unforced error cost her a bogie and a two-shot swing tied them at the top when Yang buried a 50-footer on the 9th hole in front of her.

The momentum further shifted in Yang’s direction when she laced her second shot on the par 5 10th to inside 15 feet for a good eagle opportunity. But the golf goddesses interceded as the storm alarm sounded before she could putt forcing an interruption in play that stifled her charge. After play resumed she missed the eagle putt settling for a birdie which Lydia matched on the 10th to bring them both to 8-under.

Lydia asserted herself again with a good birdie opportunity on the 11th but left the putt in the jaws and settle for par. On the par 4 12th she hit it to 25 feet and calmly rolled in a curling birdie putt to regain the lead alone at 9-under.

When the birdie putt found bottom on the 12th the Fat Lady was humming

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Yang, just one back on the par 5 14th, hit her second into the green side bunker and made a gutsy up and down for birdie to once again tie the lead at 9-under. But her putter was to be her undoing as she missed a short one on 15 to make bogey failing to get up and down from in front of the green. A miscue on 17 led to another bogey and her final second place position at 7-under par.

From the 13th tee to the trophy presentation it was fairway and greens for Lydia without a dropped shot on the card as she proved once again to be a stoic front runner once she has the lead.  This performance was hauntingly similar to her win over Stacy Lewis at Lake Merced.

These victory speeches are becoming old hat for Lydia

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At 17 this young woman is maturing quickly shedding the Annie Hall spectacles for contact lenses, embracing make-up, and wearing more stylish attire. The new look still has a ways to go to catch up with the maturity of her golf game which has gotten her to #1 and will make it a formidable task for anyone to dislodge Lydia from that perch.

February, 2015

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