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Golf - 30. January 2014.

ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch

Lydia Ko 2014 NZ Open Pro-Am.jpg

ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch: Hull wants to follow Ko’s lead

Teenage Charley Hull will be hoping she can put into practice what she has picked up from playing with fellow teenage sensation Lydia Ko and capture her first professional title at this week’s ISPS Handa New Zealand’s Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.

The 17-year-old from England had a fantastic rookie year in Europe, she finished runner-up in her first five events as a professional, finished sixth on the ISPS Handa Order of Merit and took home the LET Rolex Rookie of the Year honours. However, she did learn a thing or two when she was paired with the New Zealand No.1 during the year.

“I try and focus mainly on myself and my own game but sometimes just have a look at little things that you can learn off her,” said Hull of Ko.

“She has got a great tempo, that is one of the main things I worked on over winter, ‘cause I noticed that about her. So it was something I definitely needed to work on.

Hull played with Ko at the Evian Championship in France and didn’t play very well that week “cause my swing was a bit out.”

“I was working on some stuff and it wasn’t quite together and I thought if my tempo was better, it would give me more of a chance, so that is one thing I have definitely noticed with Lydia.

“She has won five professional titles and I am trying to win my first one still so she is a good person to learn from.”

The fact that Ko is defending and now up to No.4 in the Rolex World Rankings, takes the spotlight away from Hull which is nothing but good news for the Solheim Cup rep.

“I quite like it, it takes pressure off me a little bit, because they have so many high expectations about Lydia, so which is kinda good, people won’t expect too much from you but as Lydia a lot of people expect it. “

Hull is on her first trip to New Zealand and says it reminds her of home.

“It is really pretty, I like it (New Zealand), it looks a bit like England I think, just like our summer, but probably a bit warmer, I like it so far.”

Regarding the Clearwater layout she is ready for a stern test.

“I think it is really pretty, I think it is great, the greens are really good. The whole course is really good, especially when the wind blows it can be a real challenge.”

Hull, who is paired with Ko and Australian Stacey Keating in the first two rounds, is looking forward to tomorrow.

“I like playing with Lydia, actually you learn a lot off her, which is weird, but I played with her in the Canadian Open for the first three rounds, we were both playing pretty well in that and then she soared ahead. I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

Her compatriot Laura Davies, a winner of an incredible 84 professional titles, and the 2012 NZ Women’s Open, has played a motherly role to the young English superstar.

Davies expects big things of Hull as she looks to back up her dream debut season.

“Me and Charley get on really well,” said Davies. “I played with her in her first pro event last year in Morocco and I just thought she was a lovely young girl with a really bright future.

“I haven’t given her a lot of advice, I have talked to her Dad a bit about travel and things and that is just helping out someone who is a peer. You try to help them if you can, you want to beat them and they want to beat you but there is no doubt that Charley is an exciting prospect and she has a really bright future.”

Davies: “Ko is overwhelming favourite”

She might be playing mind games but Laura Davies believes that Lydia Ko deserves to be labeled as the overwhelming favourite for the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.

The 2012 NZ Open Champion, who is one of the legends of the game with four major titles to her name, said that the World No.4 will be hard to beat at the Clearwater Golf Club when the tournament tees off tomorrow.

“It will be a tough task winning it because Lydia is here,” said the 50-year-old.

“If you haven’t got your very best game then you are playing for second. In other words if you turn up and you are average then you are not going to beat her. I know if I play my very best golf then I can beat her, Gwladys [Nocera] the same, there are 15 – 20 golfers out here who on their day can beat Lydia over a week.”

Davies said that Ko’s consistency puts pressure on the rest of the field.

“She is not going to make too many mistakes because that is the sort of player that she is. A lot of us think that we can win it but we have got to be at our best.”

It is some wrap from a player who has won 84 professional titles worldwide and been a dominant force in the women’s game.

The TAB agrees with Davies having the World No.4 at the shortest odds ever for a champion in the event’s history at only $3 to win. They also have the Rest of the Field vs Lydia Ko bet at $1.33.

Davies said she has never seen a player like Ko before and that she deserves all the accolades she receives.

“Lydia is No.4 in the world, she has defended an LPGA Tour title in Canada and she is only 16. She has done so much at such a young age and everyone loves seeing a youngster play really well, week in week out.

“I am very impressed by her. I remember when I won this tournament and Lydia was the top amateur and she was 12. I said in my speech you should go to bed now, it was after six at the prize-giving. Little did I know, I mean I have seen a lot of young ‘uns come and go but obviously Lydia is a different type of player. She is very calm, she has never lost her temper, you hardly ever see her frown, she has obviously got some great backing from her family.”

For all her praise don’t believe that Davies has already written off her chances.

The English pro, who is always a popular player with the galleries in Christchurch, has all the experience to cope with the strong winds and is feeling more at home at Clearwater.

“The first time we played here I didn’t really like it. It hadn’t matured but when we came back from Pegasus I thought ‘Should I even go?’ and I loved it last year. I just think it has turned into a world class course.”

Davies has a clear goal in mind for the three-round tournament if she is going to be the first player to win the NZ Women’s Open twice.

“I think I need to shoot 15 under if you could shoot three 67s then you will be competitive. Obviously there are a lot of girls who can shoot that number. Lydia is obviously one of them and I am hoping I am one of them too. “

Ko happy to be home

She is probably just being humble but Lydia Ko doesn’t believe her achievements compare to what another teenager from Auckland’s North Shore has achieved.

Singer-songwriter Lorde arrived home from the States yesterday fresh from winning two Grammy Awards and Ko, who touched down shortly before from the Bahamas, was in awe of the music sensation when she saw her at Auckland Airport.

“She is so famous and she is a superstar,” said Ko in front of a packed press conference.

“At the Grammy’s she got a couple of awards. I think I am incomparable compared to what she has done. I have never met her and I wanted to go and ask for her autograph but she was surrounded by people and had just been on a long flight home as well.”

The World No.4, who is one of the biggest names in world golf, was the headline act at the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch today.

She is happy to be home and is looking forward to beginning her title defence at the Clearwater Golf Club alongside Charley Hull (ENG) and Stacey Keating (AUS) tomorrow morning.

The 16-year-old, who won the title last year to become the youngest winner in Ladies European Tour history, is feeling confident about her game after beginning her rookie season in the Bahamas with a top-10 finish.

Ko knows that there is more pressure to perform this week but that is something she is used to.

“I am playing well and I am pretty confident but the wind can get pretty nasty out there,” said the Gulf Harbour member.

“I can’t control what someone else does. There are a lot of great players out here this week so I can’t just expect to turn up and win. I will play my own game and do my best. If I have a couple of good rounds I should be up there and in contention but I can’t expect to win every week, even though that would be nice, it is not realistic."

Ko said it was humbling to arrive back in Christchurch to see her face on all the marketing and billboards for the tournament. She is looking forward to playing in front of the large galleries that are expected over the next three days.

“Last year it was ‘Ready Set Ko’ and this year it is ‘Here We Ko Again’ so it is pretty cool. Maybe it is a good last name to have. It’s really great to have that support and to play at home.

“We had a lot of people follow us last year and it was really cool to see the people come out and support us.”

Ko has been well supported by New Zealand golf fans as she claimed four professional titles as an amateur and her first pro win at the Swinging Skirts in December.

She was pleased to let her clubs do the talking last week.

“My mind was kind of busy on all the changes – a lot of people said a lot about the changes and everything – but I just tried to close it all out and focus on my game. I was really happy with how I played.”

In a time of change Ko was also quick to pay credit to her former coach Guy Wilson who moulded her swing in the formative years of her career.

“I’ve been with Guy for a couple of years and I thank him for the work he has done and the time he has put in. unfortunately we have to split for some reasons. I thank him so much and I also thank the team at I Golf. Guy and the team at I Golf [Institute of Golf] are a very good coaching team. I wish them the very best.”

She also paid tribute to her Mum, Tina, who runs the Lydia Ko show.

“She does pretty much everything for me. Like from cooking to driving… everything. Luckily I am the one that hits the ball. She is like an assistant coach and it is good to have another set of eyes.

“I am a bit clumsy. Sometimes before interviews I have one collar up and one collar down so she likes to fix that for me. She is a bit of a perfectionist.”

Ko’s ability and work ethic with her game would suggest that being a perfectionist runs in the family.

She hasn’t set too many lofty goals for her first season on the LPGA Tour as she adjusts to life as a professional.

“People say you could be World No.1 at the end of this year but I am so many points behind the big three and there are so many great players just behind me. I don’t really have a goal set on when I do want to become World No.1 but the sooner the better right?”

ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch: Former Champions confident at Clearwater

The two former Australian winners of the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch have arrived at the Clearwater Golf Club on the back of contrasting seasons in 2013.

Western Australian Kristie Smith, who won the title by three shots at the Pegasus Golf Club in 2011, feels like she is playing the “best golf of my life” after remodeling her swing with new coach David Leadbetter.

Meanwhile Lindsey Wright, who won the event in 2012 but was unable to defend last year because of a stress fracture to her foot, is looking to turn things around in 2014 after a “terrible season”.

But you wouldn’t have guessed it on the weekend at the Oatlands Golf Club for the Bing Lee NSW Open on the ALPG Tour.

The pair contended the title and finished in a share of fifth place.

Wright showed that she is a new player in 2014 with a superb eight-under par 64 in round two that included seven birdies in a row while Smith had a stunning opening round of seven-under par 65.

Both players arrive in New Zealand today brimming with confidence that they can add another ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open title to their name when the event begins on Friday.

“It is pretty special anytime you come back to a tournament you have won before,” said the 25-year-old Smith.

“I have a lot of great memories from my win at Pegasus. It was a fantastic week and it meant a huge amount for my career to get my card in Europe. It is always nice coming back as a former champion and in the form I am in I feel good about my chances.”

Smith made the most of her great form to qualify for the LPGA Tour for the first time in 2014.

“For the past five or six months I feel like I have been hitting it great – probably the best ball striking of my career and I am looking forward to some good results in 2014. If I can get the putter going I feel like I will be pretty competitive and contend for the title.”

Smith credits her change in fortune to the work of Leadbetter.

She went to see him in May and he advised that the changes to her swing could take up to a year to see some results.

“He said it was going to get worse before it got better and he was right,” joked Smith.

“I put in some hard work to change some bad habits that had formed over time but now I am so pleased I did because I am hitting it great and playing with a lot of confidence.”

Meanwhile Wright’s confidence was at all-time low in 2013.

“My swing was all over the place, my pre-shot routine was out of whack and my putting was poor… it was awful really,” said the 34-year-old.

“So it was good to get away from the game and refresh everything. This is an important year for me for getting back on track and it started [last week] in NSW and then [this] week in Christchurch.

“I am feeling pretty good about my game. This year is exciting for me as I feel like I am in a good space to turn things around. All it takes is for a couple good rounds to get the confidence and belief back and then you are away.”

For Wright it is nice to return to the event that she won at Pegasus in 2012. She will get familiar with the Clearwater Golf Club as she plays the course for the first time.

“I know absolutely nothing about Clearwater. I have been told that it is a bit tighter than Pegasus and it is windy there and that is was cold when Glwadys [Nocera] was thrown into the lake when she won the first event. That is all. I am looking forward to seeing it for myself and setting up a game plan.”

Meanwhile Smith enjoys the challenge of the John Darby and Sir Bob Charles designed layout.

“It is a difficult track especially when the wind gets up. But it is difficult for everyone and you have to play sensible golf. It is a good place to host the New Zealand Women’s Open because if you win there you know that you have played three days of solid golf.”

Both Wright and Smith said the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open is an important event for golf in this region.

“It is great to have this tournament on the ALPG Tour and it has been great to see it go from strength to strength in the past few years,” said Wright.

“It is a really enjoyable week and an important tournament for New Zealand and Australian golfers. It is not surprising that all the former champions are coming back because it is a great tournament and one that all the players really enjoy.”

Smith added: “I don’t know why but I feel very comfortable in Christchurch. It is like home and New Zealand is such a beautiful place. I always love coming to Christchurch. That helps you play well at a big tournament.”

Smith and Wright are two of the five former champions returning to the event alongside Gwladys Nocera (France), Laura Davies (England) and World No.4 Lydia Ko (New Zealand).

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