The 15-year-old Ko appeared rather nonchalant that she has a slim one-shot lead over some top-notch players after 54 holes at the CN Canadian Women’s Open on Saturday.
After a level-par 72 for an eight-under total, Ko is being chased by a group of four in second place that includes three top-15 ranked golfers in world No. 2 and this year’s LPGA Tour money leader Stacy Lewis, No. 11 Inbee Park and No. 15 Jiyai Shin. Lewis checked in at with the low score of the day, a 6-under 66.
But despite Lewis and Co. lurking, Ko appeared relaxed after her round.
“Um, yeah 15-year-olds don’t lead at an LPGA event all the time,” Ko said. “But like I said, I’m very surprised. I’ve been playing really good golf and I’m confident with my game.
“Tomorrow I’m just going to try my best. I’ve got to play my own game. I can’t concentrate on what the other players are doing. If they shoot 66 and I shoot 68 and I lose, I can’t control what they do. So I’m just going to play my game.”
After carding back-to-back 68s to open the tournament, Ko made a trio of three-putt bogeys to keep herself from building a hefty lead on Saturday. But despite the hiccups, she remained calm and clearly has become the darling of the tournament with the local fans who have lined the Vancouver Golf Club fairways this week.
“If I make a bogey or three putt I’m on fire inside,” she explained. “But it’s not like you’re going to play any better slamming your club or getting angry. So you might as well just keep it in. People say I’m pretty calm, but I do make mistakes and I do get angry, but I try and not show it.”
What the world’s No. 1 ranked woman amateur has showed not just this week, but all year has been some impressive golf. Before she turned 15, she won an event on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, the New South Wales Open.
Here is a sample of how the Seoul, South Korea-born, Auckland, New Zealand-resident has performed in 2012.
- Jan. 15-20 – Won Australian Women’s Amateur
- Jan. 27-29 – Won New South Wales Open (Australian LPGA tour event)
- Feb. 2-5 – T32 Australian Ladies Masters (Australian LPGA tour event)
- Feb. 9-12 – T19 Australian Women’s Open (Australian LPGA tour event)
- Feb. 17-19 – T17 New Zealand Women’s Open (Australian LPGA tour event)
- July 5-8 – T39 U.S. Women’s Open (low amateur)
- July 16-19 – Lost in semis U.S. Girls’ Junior
- Aug. 6-12 – Won U.S. Women’s Amateur
She certainly has turned heads among the LPGA Tour regulars like Lewis.
“Suzann [Pettersen] and I were talking about it yesterday,” Lewis said. “We’re working. This is our job and we’re working full-time on it. It’s not supposed to be her job and yet she’s beating us.
“I think it’s good for the game. She’s obviously playing well. She won an Australian LPGA event earlier this year, and I played with her in Australia. She’s solid. She hits it good, she putts it good and she’s rolling with the confidence.
“I say why not? She’s playing good golf and more power to her.”
Ko and her family moved from Seoul to Auckland in 2003. They almost called Canada home. Her older sister, Sura, was attending school in Toronto. But they decided on New Zealand because of the weather and there was less red tape to relocate there.
Even if Ko holds on for the win she likely won’t abandon her plan to stay as an amateur for at least another year or so. But the pros will be gunning for her and that $300,000 first-place cheque on Sunday, trying to prevent Ko from becoming the first amateur to win on the LPGA Tour since JoAnne Carner in 1969.
“They’re professionals and at a higher level than me,” Ko said. “Everyone’s wanting to win. So at the moment, I may be [the target], but I respect them so much and I look up to them so much. Hopefully, I’m not a big target.”
The lone Canadian to make the cut, Jessica Shepley of Oakville, Ont., was one of 23 players able to break par on Saturday. Her third-round, two-under 70 enabled her to jump from a tie for 59th to a tie for 32nd.
Another under-par round could give the 29-year-old Shepley her best showing on the LPGA Tour, which was a tie for 27th in Hawaii earlier this year.