CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – It was a remarkable display of poise and precision. Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old Kiwi who isn’t old enough to know what failure feels like and wins national opens the way most girls her age win club championships, made the locals proud on Sunday at Clearwater Golf Club. Ko won the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open by one stroke over American Amelia Lewis, who three-putted the 54th hole. Lewis took home the winner’s paycheck, but not the trophy.
“I didn’t cry at the Canadian Open,” said Ko when asked about her teary walk off the 18th. “I guess (this tournament) meant more.”
Ko missed only one green on Sunday, hitting it long on the third hole out of the rough. That, incidentally, was her only bogey of the day. Ko closed with a 4-under 68 for a 10-under 206 total. This marks her third professional victory, including the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open (youngest in LPGA history) and the NSW Open, which she won at age 14.
Ko, the first Kiwi to win the NZ Women’s Open, said she doesn’t have a “trophy holder place.” Judging by the way she handles herself down the stretch at big events, she might want to invest in a trophy case.
It wasn’t the smoothest start for Ko this morning, who left her yardage book back at the house where she was staying. Her mom delivered the book 10 minutes before she arrived at the first tee, where she shared the lead with another young Korean, Seon Woo Bae, heading into the final round.
A birdie for Ko on the first set the tone for the day. Bae held steady with Ko throughout the front nine, while Aussie Stacey Keating and Lewis charged hard on the back. Lewis took a one-shot lead with an eagle on the par-5 10th hole followed by birdies on Nos. 12 and 13. A birdie from Ko on the 15th brought her level with Lewis, who was playing in the group ahead.
On the 18th, Lewis hit the green short left of the flag and ran her birdie putt 5 feet past the hole. A miss there gave Ko a one-shot lead while standing just off the 18th fairway. She hit her approach to 30 feet and two-putted for the home victory.
“I don’t play for the money,” said Lewis, who took home Ko’s winner’s check of $30,000. “But I guess it does soften the blow.”
Ko went to celebrate at the Japanese restaurant where she started the week. It won’t be a long night out as she must leave for the airport at 4 a.m. to catch her Monday morning flight to the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open.
Several LET players were on hand to watch Ko finish on the 18th, including last year’s Order of Merit winner Carlota Ciganda. The Spanish star played alongside Ko the first two rounds and was impressed with every aspect of her game.
“I think because she’s 15 she doesn’t realize what she’s doing,” Ciganda said.
To be sure, there are certain benefits that only youth can provide. But that shouldn’t take away from what the young player has accomplished. She might not realize now the significance of her achievements, nor how difficult this game can be at times. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s making history.
And her year is just getting started.
Also on HuffPost:
1996 U.S. Bank Championship
2008 Bay Hill Invitational
2000 Bell Canadian Open / 2000 U.S. Open
1997 Phoenix Open
2008 U.S. Open Third Round
2005 Masters Tournament
2001 Players Championship
2011 Masters Tournament
2008 U.S. Open Final Round
2012 Memorial Tournament