Teen phenom Ko leads Canadian Women’s Open
COQUITLAM, B.C. - The television cameras showed up on the 15th hole. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old amateur from New Zealand by way of South Korea, had ascended to the top of the leaderboard during the second round of the CN Canadian Women’s Open at the Vancouver Golf Club.
Ko, a sensation in her adopted home country, couldn’t quite believe it as she vied with a star-studded field of professionals for top spot at a national championship on the other side of the planet.
“Suddenly people with the cameras were coming and I was like, ‘Are they actually going to take footage of me?’” a lively Ko said at an early-afternoon press conference after she carded a four-under-par 68 in the second round to enter the clubhouse in the lead at eight-under 136.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ And I took a peek at the leaderboard and my name was at the top, it was like, ‘Oh, my god.’”
In a sport where the emergence of yet another teenage phenomenon seems to be an annual occurrence, Ko as of Friday night stands 36 holes away from history. She feels poised. On her website, still under construction, it boasts: “Ready for the world’s stage.”
The Canadian Open has never been won by an amateur; the youngest champion was Michelle Wie, at 20, two years ago. And it has been more than four decades since an amateur won an LPGA Tour event, happening in 1969. An amateur won the women’s U.S. Open in 1967.
History is something Ko knows a little bit about. In January, at 14, she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tournament, outpacing the field by four strokes at the New South Wales Open in Australia.
Ko’s grip on the lead at the Canadian Open, however, didn’t last long after a massive charge by South Korea’s Chella Choi. The world No. 45 started the day at even par, but with birdies on eight of 10 holes Friday, tied Ko at eight-under not long after Ko arrived at the clubhouse.
While Ko soared, it was a bad day for Canada. Out of 15 in the field , only one made the projected cut at three-over par. Jessica Shepley of Oakville, Ont., needed to make a 10-foot bogey putt just to play the weekend.
For Lorie Kane, the 47-year-old veteran who started the day at even par, Friday was far more difficult, professionally and personally. On Thursday, a close family friend died. On Friday, the grief raw, Kane struggled on the course, and the worst came on the final hole. She teed off into a fairway bunker, and on the green, putting for a bogey, which she needed to make the projected cut, Kane missed by barely an inch. Her double bogey put her at four-over, and she left the course in tears.
Later, she told reporters: “I’m kind of feeling like [Canadian Olympic relay sprinter] Jared Connaughton, I touched the line.”
Kane’s playing partner, Wie, had more struggles in what is the worst year of her professional career. A double bogey to open the day pushed Wie to four-over, and two bogeys to end it sealed her two-day tournament. The miss means she has made fewer than half the cuts – seven of 15 – in tournaments she has entered this year.
Canada’s budding stars faltered. Jisoo Keel, a 17-year-old whose high school is a 15-minute drive from the Vancouver Golf Club, last year made the cut at the Canadian Open but this year could not convert home-field advantage, carding a six-over 78 on Friday to finish her two days at 11-over.
Brooke Henderson couldn't extend her history making appearance. At 14 – she turns 15 in early September – she was the youngest entrant in the annals of the Canadian Open, but a five-over Thursday coupled by a four-over Friday put her at nine-over for the tournament.
Ko almost made Canada home. About a decade ago, when the Ko family left golf-mad South Korea, they originally looked first at Canada, where Ko’s older sister Sura was attending school, but the family settled on New Zealand after a brief foray in Australia.
New Zealand has embraced the young woman, more so last week when she won the Unites States Amateur Championship, where her mother served as caddy, as she often does (though this week she has a caddy from Vancouver).
The CEO of New Zealand Golf called the victory one of the country’s greatest sporting moments ever.
At the Canadian Open, the key to Ko’s climb has been consistency. On Friday, she hit every fairway, 15 for 15, and almost every green, 16 for 18.
“I don’t have anything to lose playing this tournament,” Ko said. “I’m just here for experience.”