CLEVELAND – Lydia Ko tells a nightmarish story about getting out of San Francisco after the U.S. Girls’ Junior and finding her way to Ohio. Read: The New Zealander isn’t used to American airports, where long lines, canceled flights and frustrating layovers are the norm.
“That’s life,” Ko says eventually with a sigh. “You can’t always have a perfect flight. I guess it’s good getting experience in all areas.”
Perhaps Ohio wouldn’t be high on the list of stateside destinations for a 15-year-old making just her fourth trip to the U.S., but the past two weeks have been all about practicality for Ko. That and making friends.
After being told she couldn’t spend the weeks leading up to the U.S. Women’s Amateur honing her game at The Country Club, Ko has been holed up at nearby Stonewater Golf Club and Little Mountain Country Club. At night, she returns to her hotel room to watch crime dramas like CSI and surf Facebook. It’s a pretty choice life, even if it has been adventure-free. The only college campus Ko has visited during this trip to the U.S. is Stanford. To be honest, she admits, there isn’t much time for anything but golf.
The biggest surprise for Ko during a trip that began with the U.S. Women’s Open in early July – where she finished as the low amateur – has been the hospitality.
“Everyone greeted me so I kept going there,” Ko said of Stonewater. “It’s good to go places where you feel really welcome.”
Perhaps Ko doesn’t place enough weight on the World Amateur Rankings. She occupies the top spot, and has for more than a year. It’s something of which people take notice. Not to mention the amount of media coverage that comes with it, as Ko notes. Still, it makes her feel like she’s back home in Auckland, New Zealand.
Ko drew a late-morning tee time on Monday and shot a 6-under, bogey-free 66 to pace the field. She was keenly aware that she was 6 under for two rounds of stroke play at last year’s event, where she was co-medalist. It takes the pressure off of Round 2, when she’ll play in the second-to-last group off the first tee.
“Somehow I seem to play much better in the mornings,” she said. “… I might be a morning person but don’t like waking up in the mornings definitely.”
Regardless of tomorrow’s tee time, Ko should sleep well with a two-shot lead.