US Women’s Open week has arrived and Lydia Ko continues her first professional campaign at historic Pinehurst No. 2.
Ko will be making her ninth start in a major championship and third appearance in the US Open.
Martin Kaymer led the men off this rustic stage at Pinehurst last Sunday with an eight-shot victory and the course remained relatively untouched from Sunday night to the first Women’s practice rounds early Monday morning.
The only watering by the United States Golf Association (USGA) came on the greens.
On Sunday afternoon, Matt Kuchar hit a drive on 18 that landed in the fairway and kicked up dust on its first two bounces. On Monday, Ko’s drive on the 14th did the exact same thing. So conditions look to be very similar from last week to this. The greens are running at 12 on the stimpmeter, the fastest that Ko says she’s ever practiced on.
However Ko has a distinct advantage this week in caddie Mike ‘Fluff’ Cowan. The 66-year-old who loops for PGA Tour pro Jim Furyk assisted his boss last week to a tie for 12th, including a final round 3-under 67. If Monday’s practice round was any indication Ko and Cowan seem to get along quite well.
Lydia was all laughs Monday. She pumped her first playfully after a made putt on the par-3 ninth and smiled ear-to-ear when she chipped in for birdie on the par-3 17th hole.
“I told her being here is not so bad on this hole,” Cowan told NZGM.
Ko feels fortunate to have Cowan on the bag this week.
“He’s a very experienced guy,” Ko told NZGM. “It’s good that there’s somebody that I can rely on.”
Reliable indeed, Furyk won the 2003 US Open with Cowan on the bag.
Cowan placed round replica holes on different parts of each green for Ko to aim at Monday. At times, because of the height of Pinehurst No.2’s turtle-back greens, Ko chipped to a spot too high for her to see so Cowan would stand on one of his replica holes to give her a target. She also played many shots from the native areas to be prepared for any situation or lie during the championship.
On the tee boxes Cowan stood behind Ko and told her the correct place to aim.
“I told her the line to where I think the fairway is the widest,” Cowan said. “She seems to know what she wants to do. I think she just wants reassurance as much as anything.”
On the majestic 18th Cowan and Ko used the flags on the grandstands for targets off the tee.
“He’s going to be able to guide her into some areas where she could be aggressive and where she could score from,” Lydia’s coach Sean Hogan said.
Ko says the rapport between her and Cowan is good.
So what does Ko see as the key to playing well on Pinehurst?
“Short game is going to be crucial because I probably won’t be able to hit all 18 greens and so when I’m missing them it’s just key for me to make ups and downs as easy as possible,” Ko said.
Cowan says that playing below the hole will be their game-plan on No. 2’s elevated greens.
Ko came close to winning her first major at Evian last year, so is she ready to breakthrough this week?
“I hope so, I’m just going to have fun and I think when you have fun it should make it easier to enjoy the moments,” Ko said. “I’ve got to be relaxed. I know it’s a special week. It’s the US Open week but I’m just going to have the most fun I can possibly have.”
Ko will have her parents and her older sister Sura in her gallery this week.
Sura, 25, flew in from Auckland this week and is attending her first event in the states this year. She typically follows Lydia to four tournaments every year.
Although they are not often together, when they are they enjoy doing their nails and watching drama shows on television like NCIS and Elementary.
Lydia’s entertainment this week came in meeting and watching the top men’s players last Saturday and Sunday.
She walked inside the ropes with fellow golfer Sue Kim, following Phil Mickelson for a few holes and Sergio Garcia as well.
Ko says she’s confident about her game after her strong finish at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and her win at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April.
We will soon see how far that confidence goes in America’s national championship.
From our U.S. correspondent Garrett Johnson