Lydia Ko, 18, continues to prove she’s wise beyond her years – both on the course and off. The No. 1 player in the Rolex World Golf Rankings announced Wednesday in her pre-tournament press conference at the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout Presented by JTBC that she would donate all of her winnings this week to charities providing relief for the Nepal earthquake.
Although Ko needs only $2,157 this week to push her over the $3 million career earnings mark, none of the money earned this week will go to her bank account.
“Obviously it was very unfortunate when I got to hear that there was an earthquake in Nepal,” Ko said. “We had a big one in New Zealand, too, a couple years ago, and it affected a lot of people. There it was in Christchurch, where we call it the Garden City, but now it still has the name, but there is still evidence of what happened there. Natural disasters you can’t do much about. Sometimes it’s hard to be prepared for it, so I thought, those people there, nice people and very innocent, so I wanted to give this tournament’s earnings and donate it to them.”
While Ko plays for her third win of the year this week- and eighth of her young career – she also will play for Nepal.
WORLD NO. 1 BACK AT IT IN TEXAS
Rolex Rankings World No. 1 Lydia Ko arrives on the heels of a victory at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic as one well-traveled teenager. But there is one place that she has not been before this week, and that place is Texas. Besides making quick pit stops in the airport, Ko is experiencing the state of Texas for the very first time as she is in town for the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout presented by JTBC.
“This is actually the first time me being in Texas, the whole state,” Ko said. “Hopefully I get a chance to look around and see what it’s like, and yeah, you know, I’ve been liking it so far, apart from the rain the last couple days.”
Although this is Ko’s first trip to the state of Texas, she was familiar with the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. After all, it was a possible candidate for her home in the U.S.
“Actually before we decided to move to Orlando,” Ko said. “Dallas was another city where we were maybe thinking of moving to. But yeah, you know, it definitely feels different to Orlando, and it feels quite modern.”
Ko’s experience in Texas this week would not be complete without embracing a few of the Texan ways, and food is one of them.
“Kim Kaufman said I should go and get some Tex Mex is it?” Ko said. “So I might try that.”
HOPING FOR A REPEAT
Stacy Lewis blistered the field here a year ago with a final-round, 7-under 64 to cruise to a six-shot victory, but heading into this event last year she was frustrated. She had yet to win but had played great golf to that point. That win though set off a two-month stretch better than anyone in golf’s last year, winning three times over the course of May and July and posting three additional top-10s in that span.
Lewis is hoping for the same result this year. She’s playing terrific golf in 2015 but she’s yet to get a win. Her lowest finish in eight events is a tie for 15th and she has three runner-ups and three additional top-10 finishes. But a win’s eluded her and she’s hoping that will change here this week like it did a year ago.
“Well, I felt like coming in the tournament last year, I was playing well, kind of had some frustrating finishes, so I knew good golf was coming,” Lewis said, “and it was just kind of one of those things, once I kind of got over the hurdle on Sunday, the floodgates opened, and I’m hoping for that again this year. I’ve had some really close finishes again.
“It’s been another really similar year to last year, pretty consistent, you know, just haven’t quite gotten over the hurdle on Sunday.”
She’s hoping that changes here again a year later. And although she’s had five runner-ups since her last win in Arkansas at the end of last June, Lewis knows she’s on the cusp.
“It’s really hard to complain,” Lewis said. “I made a lot of money, I’m pretty high on the Money List for not having a win. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing because it’s working, and I think one of these days it’ll all come together on Sunday.”
The LPGA Tour is in Texas this week and the Tour doesn’t have just one hometown favorite, but multiple hometown favorites this week. There are eleven Texas natives in the field this week, including three players with LPGA wins under their belts.
Three players that are currently residing in Texas – Brittany Lang (McKinney), Angela Stanford (Fort Worth) and Gerina Piller (Fort Worth) – all stressed the importance of having an LPGA event in the state of Texas and what it means to them.
“I love that all my friends get to come enjoy it.” Lang said. “I think it’s great, too, because we bring out a ton of people from McKinney and Stonebridge and they get a great view of the LPGA and they start following, so it’s great for us.”
Former TCU Horned Frog Angela Stanford emphasized the location of Las Colinas Country Club and how it helps bring familiar faces out to watch the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout.
“Seeing people that they have purple on and they’re yelling, Go Frogs,” Stanford said. “That’s fun. I actually like the location. I like it where we can pull from Dallas, we can pull from Fort Worth…the metroplex is so big, you want to be central here to pull everybody.”
For Gerina Piller, playing at home is always great, but sometimes it does create a little confusion in her schedule and regular tournament routine.
“It’s kind of odd because you’re at your house,” Piller said. “And I don’t know about these two girls but I get like this, cleaning out my closet, and I’m like, hold on, you need to stay focused, we’re at a tournament here…but like they said, it’s great just to be somewhere familiar…you just have that feeling and that sense of the connection with the city and the town, and you just feel like you’re like people are behind you and they’re rooting for you.”
It will not just be the people that will be familiar for the Texas players this week, but the course here at Las Colinas Country Club.
“It’s kind of nice because I know we all have home courses but it’s kind of like a
secondary home,” Stanford said. “That speaks volumes for the people here and the staff here because they have welcomed us and they have welcomed the LPGA, and that’s awesome.”
McKinney resident Brittany Lang admitted that she does not make the drive out to the course here as much as she should, but has still had taken the opportunity to get a few good looks at the course.
“I think I played three rounds recently,” Lang said. “I played one with Angela and then two with my husband, but it’s good to get out and just learn something else, and the course was soggy the last time, so it’s a completely different course to last year with it being firm last year.”
As for Piller, when she has the chance to be at home during a break from the Tour, she tries to stay away from the golf course. That doesn’t mean that she didn’t have an insider’s perspective on the course though.
“I actually caddied for my husband in a U.S. Open qualifier here before they even had the tournament,” Piller said. “So I was like, yeah, I felt like I had a one up on everybody.”
SINGLE AND READY TO MINGLE
The Rolex Rankings No. 1 player, Lydia Ko, celebrated a big birthday in San Francisco last week. Ko turned 18 years old, and is now officially an “adult.” Ko has found plenty of success on the course, but is now open to finding “success” off the course; she’s ready to enter the dating field she said when asked how she has time to meet guys when playing professional golf.
“I would love a boyfriend,” Ko laughed. “I don’t know what my mom has got to say about that one…it so hard. I always say the guys I meet are either like 10 or they’re 40. I need someone in the middle range..sometimes I see the girls with like boyfriends, and I’m like, man, where did you guys meet each other?”
That doesn’t stop Ko from having a wandering eye at times though.
“When I see a good-looking guy, I go, oh man, he’s good looking,” Ko smiled. “Yeah I’ve still got that girl feeling in there.”
The Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout brings unique features to the LPGA’s schedule this year. The
tournament highlights young players with their high school and college shootouts held prior to the start of the
tournament. The top two finishers qualified for this week’s event; Dominique Galloway and Amber Wang were the high school qualifiers and Texas A&M University’s Marijosse Navarro and Oklahoma State University’s Maddie McCrary were the collegiate qualifiers.
In addition to the four qualifiers, the Irving event will have a double-cut format. Following second-round on Friday the cutline will be top-70 and ties, after the third-round Saturday there will be an additional cut of the top-50 and ties.
Paige Mackenzie, best known these days as a personality on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, is back to the place where she originally made her name in the golfing world – on the course as an LPGA Tour player. For the last year and half, Mackenzie’s been off of the Tour with a back injury but she’s back and ready to give it a go this week.
“This feels like home to me, being inside the ropes,” Mackenzie said. “It’s all I’ve known as an adult is playing
professional golf and being out here on the LPGA Tour, so for me, yeah, it feels very, very comfortable. But I’ve never been this nervous before a tournament before. I can’t say that I feel fully ready, buut I don’t know if there’s ever a ready.”
Mackenzie planned on playing about 10 events entering this season, while maintaining her role on Morning Drive, but her back injury took longer to heal than she thought. So although she might not get in a full 10 events, she’s still planning on keeping her day job and her original job. Her goal for this renewed journey is simply to in the short term, finish this tournament healthy. And in the long term, to keep her LPGA Tour card for 2016.
“I wouldn’t be playing right now if it weren’t for Golf Channel because I would have quit,” Mackenzie says bluntly. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford to maybe be able to come back becauase there were moments even after surgery where I didn’t think I was ever going to play golf again, so there’s noway that I would have put myself through that financial stress of waiting to see, a year and half later. I would have sought a different direction. It’s more than a plan B for me. Like it really kind of saved my Plan A. You know what I mean?”
In a way, though, both her plan A and plan B couldn’t be anymore similar. Both require performing in front of an
audience when the camera’s on, and she gets the same adrenaline rush on the first tee as she does when Morning Drive goes live.
“In both cases you have to have a relaxed control of your adrenaline,” Mackenzie said. “The moment you get uptight on the golf course, you hit a bad shot. The moment you get uptight on television, you lose your train of thought or your mouth is moving faster than your brain and then you get in real trouble, so it’s interesting because they both require that same type of relaxed – I don’t how else to describe it, relaxed adrenaline.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
3 – Sei Young Kim has now posted three consecutive top-10s and has six top-10s in nine starts.
5 – Lydia Ko has now won five of her last 26 LPGA starts.
6 – Number of shots Stacy Lewis won by here a year ago.
16 – Stacy Lewis hit 16-under-par a year ago in her win.
64 – Stacy Lewis’ final round here a year ago – a 7-under-par 64.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I said, ‘If you give Lydia two chances at making birdie with a wedge, she’s probably going to beat you. I wasn’t
surprised at all to see her pull that out.”
– Stacy Lewis on Lydia Ko’s playoff win