LONDON, ONTARIO - A 17-year-old vying for a three-peat sounds like a storyline from a junior tour or a prestigious amateur event.
However, this is Lydia Ko we’re talking about and everything she’s done to this point seems to defy golfing reality. At this point, outside of a win at a major, there’s not many age-related records she hasn’t broken.
Despite being the second youngest player in the field, when she tees it up Thursday at 12:54, she’ll do so as only the second player in the 41-year history of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to tee it up as the back-to-back champion.
“I played with her when she won two years ago. It’s just unbelievable at 17 that she has a chance to three-peat,” world No. 1 Stacy Lewis said. “I mean most 17-year-olds haven’t even been on Tour yet. It’s really impressive. She’s a great kid. It wouldn’t surprise me if she did it again.”
If she does, she’d become the only player in the history of this event to three-peat if she emerges victorious on Sunday.
“The first year it kind of came on as a surprise, and the next year it was kind of the same situation,” she said. “I just really love playing here.
“I’m excited for this week, but I’m not going to go out there and go, okay, I really need to win this because I just want to play the best I can, and it’s kind of not all up to me. There are always great players, so I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”
It’s not lost on Ko, though, how special it is that she’s already won four times on the LPGA Tour – twice as a professional. She’s seen six other players on Tour win at least twice this season, too, and has seen the leaderboards dominated by the stars each week.
“I mean, it’s really tough,” Ko said. “All the players are getting better and better, and it’s really hard competing out there with the world’s best. But it’s been really tough. Even my two wins, I had to try to make a birdie on the last hole to kind of get it done, and it was kind of nerve wracking.”
Making the potential three-peat even more special is this championship doesn’t return to the same golf course year after year. Different courses suit different players’ games but Ko’s still managed to master each course the last two years. And although she’s singularly focused on herself, she won’t deny how neat it would be to three-peat here in Canada where she got her first LPGA Tour win as a 15-year-old amateur.
“I mean, last year I really wanted to win, but it wasn’t because I was trying to defend my title, it was just okay, I’d love to win here,” she said. “Obviously, it would be great to do a three-peat, but you just never know, because the world’s best are all here playing in this field.”
That might be Ko’s best quality – her humility. It would be impossible to know she was a star from talking to her and the success hasn’t changed her. As humble as any player on Tour, Ko also possesses an insane confidence and focus under pressure. Before she had even turned pro, there was the 5-under 67 she shot on the final day to win by three in 2012 at this event. Then, last year, with the pressure to repeat firmly on the girl that still doesn’t have a driver’s license, she coolly tied the round of the tournament with a spectacular final round 7-under 64 to cruise to a five-shot win.
Externally, she seems immune to pressure. Internally, she’s always feeling it she says, even if nothing seems to faze her on the course.
That was the case each of the last two years when she won the Canadian Women’s Open, but her two wins this season, though, might be the best example of overcoming the nerves with the clutch birdies to win.
“Nerves, it’s kind of with your hands, you know, when you’re nervous because you don’t feel like totally relaxed,” Ko said. “To me in situations like the last hole where you’re in the lead, I guess that’s where I get most nervous. But I try to keep those nerves, but I realize when I don’t get nervous, I don’t play as good. So it’s kind of good nerves. I think having a little nerves is really no harm.”
The nerves will be there Sunday if Ko walks up the 18 with the chance to three-peat. You’ll just never know it.