EDMONTON, Canada (AFP) – Lydia Ko, a 16-year-old New Zealand amateur, defends her title at the LPGA Canadian Women's Open starting Thursday at Edmonton's Royal Mayfair after a historic triumph a year ago.
Ko became the youngest winner in LPGA history last year at 15 years and four months of age when she captured the crown in Vancouver. This season, Ko has played in nine prior LPGA events, including four majors.
"It was a huge surprise, but now when I look back at it, it was a really big week in my life," Ko said.
"I have really been enjoying the last year. I have been getting a whole new experience. I've been getting a feel for all these different types of golf courses in different countries and situations. It doesn't feel like I've played 10 already, but it has been really cool to have that opportunity to play this many."
All but one of the players in last week's Solheim Cup will be playing this week, with Sweden's Caroline Hedwall entered after becoming the first player to go 5-0 in a Solheim Cup in helping Europe defeat the US women 18-10, including sinking the Cup-clinching putt.
England's Charley Hull, a 17-year-old who went 2-1 for Europe, has four runner-up showings in nine Ladies European Tour starts and will play on a sponsor exemption, giving Ko a run for the money as top teen.
"She obviously proved herself out there last week and she's a really great player," Ko said. "It kind of makes me feel better seeing that I'm not the (only) young one, so that feels good."
Missing out on the money she could earn as a tour player does not weigh on Ko's mind.
"I don't really think about money. It's not like I count how much I'm (potentially) earning each week," Ko said. "I just hit the ball. My parents are the ones that are thinking about money and expenses."
Ko is still pondering college options and when to turn professional, but nothing has been decided on either matter.
She took a putting lesson on Sunday from world number one Park In-Bee of South Korea.
"I was putting and then she came along and did some putting as well," Ko said. "I didn't ask her any questions, but I stopped and then looked at how the world number one putts."
This year, she has putted very well. Park seeks her seventh title of the year this week, having won three major titles and leading the LPGA money list with $2,147,619.
Park returns after some time off in South Korea, including time spent with a seriously ill child whose dream was to play golf alongside Park.
"One of the kids' wishes was playing golf with me, so I did their wish and spent some time with them," Park said.
"When I was in Korea I obviously met up with my family and friends. I did some stuff for sponsors. Everything kept me really busy. I really enjoyed my time there. I feel like I'm more refreshed, feel like I'm ready to go again."
Park finished second to Ko last year, even though she collected a winner's check because Ko was an amateur.
"I could give her advice, but I don't think she really needs advice. She's a very talented player," Park said.
"It would be nice if I could actually get the trophy and the first-place check this time. I'll try my best this week and just see what happens."
Park said she feels more relaxed after her Asian trip and after her quest for a major sweep was scuttled when she failed at the Women's British Open.
"I'm a lot more relaxed now," Park said. "I experienced some big pressure in British Open. That week was big, and it could have been great if I could have played a little bit better, but some weeks you don't play your best. But I had a great experience there so I think that experience will help me throughout this season and my career."