EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France: World No.1 Lydia Ko was Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) delighted to take a walk down memory lane on her return to the scene of her first major victory, the Evian Championship.
And she is determined not to let go of the title easily. On the eve of her defense, the New Zealander teenager said: “I’m going to do my best to get the trophy back this week.”
But the challenge will be strong, most notably from the two closest to her in the world rankings, Ariya Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson.
Thailand’s Jutanugarn won her first major, the women’s British Open, at Woburn in England in July, and immediately followed up with a win in the Canadian Open. The 20-year-old also won three tournaments in a row in May.
Canadian Henderson won her first major at the LPGA Championship in June, a win that she says “was a huge turning point in my life and my career”.
So the three young guns – Ko and Henderson are 19 and Jutanugarn is 20 – are all set for an end of season battle for the LPGA honors, including Player of the Year.
“Ariya has been playing fantastic golf recently and she has got a lot of confidence,” said Ko, who was the silver medallist at last month’s Olympics in Rio.
“We have very different games. She is known as a long hitter, but she has a great short game too.
“But I’m just going to focus on my own game. I’ve got amazing memories of winning here last year. Walking down the 18th was so much more than I could ever have imagined.
“I had a few shots lead so had a bit of breathing space and could really enjoy it all. I went on to win another major (the ANA Inspiration Championship) this season, but Evian kick-started it all.”
Jutanugarn is a power player and, as at the British Open, she will not be using her driver this week. “I can reach the par fives without it so what’s the point?” she quizzed.
She says her key to success is enjoying her job. “I travel with my Mum and sister every week and we have so much fun. I want to be happy on the course,” she said.
“I think it’s cool that we three young ones are up there in the rankings. It’s just like junior golf all over again.”
Henderson finished tied 25th on her Evian debut last year when she was a rookie on Tour. She celebrated her 19th birthday on Saturday and is hoping for the ideal present – a second major.