Date: February 17, 2016
Author: Martin Blake

THE CHAMP: Ko has licence to thrill

Lydia Ko has been No. 1 in the world for so long that it's easy to forget she is still a teenager trying to do normal things. Like driving a car.

Recently she passed the test in America so that she can drive on L-plates. "I'm definitely not driving over here, it's confusing enough in the (United) States,'' she said today. "I'm learning with my car rather than different cars. I've got a new car, a Lexus RCF, and it's not one of the easiest cars to start off learning. It's a fast car, I feel like I should be going 80 miles per hour but I'm only going 30 miles per hour, so I'm not doing the car much justice.

"But it's been fun. I've always been interested in driving. Everyone said 'it's like a golf kart' but they lied. It's nothing like a golf kart. It's fun and I've still got lots to learn, road rules…''

For the New Zealander, who won her national Open for the third time last week at Clearwater, has already carved out a hall-of-fame career before her full drivers' licence, adding her first major championship last year to a bulging curriculum vitae, as well as the No. 1 ranking.

"It's been going much faster than I would have expected,'' she said. "Obviously it was always my goal to be the No. 1 ranked player but I didn't imagine it to be when I was 17 or 18.''

Ko tees off tomorrow at 7.55am in her defence of the title she won at Royal Melbourne last year, alongside her friend and rival Minjee Lee from Perth, and Ha Na Jang, the world No. 9. It is a stellar group for the big crowds expected at The Grange.

Going by her form at home in NZ last week, she will start favorite here, although she scoffs at the notion that it is her tournament to lose.  "Just because I'm the No. 1 ranked player doesn't mean I necessarily win every week, that's the most important thing. Some people think that because you are No. 1 you should win every week and No. 2 should come second every week. But if you finished second every single week, you'd probably be the No. 1 ranked player in the world. All these rankings and points they come after what we do on the course. When I'm out there I'm not thinking 'she's No. 40 in the world' or 'she's fifth in the world'. We're all out there, we're all tour players, that's the important thing.''

The Open, she says, is an event that ''speaks for itself'', noting that some of the greats of the game continue to join the ranks trying to win.  "It's great the legends keep coming back, players like Laura Davies and Karrie Webb are always enjoying it. It shows what a quality field it is. In the Australian Open we play on some of the best courses we play all year.''

Ko took a month off without touch a club at the end of last season to freshen up. "It's a long season. You only think there's 34 events on the calendar but you're away from home a long time. There's a lot of stress, physically and mentally, so to me, taking that month off was important for me to just keep being fresh the rest of the season.''