Golf: Young guns out to give pros a fright

Pig-tailed generation of amateurs beginning to change the face of women's golf.

Lydia Ko gets a chance this week to be the youngest major winner of all time at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in California. Photo / Getty Images
Lydia Ko gets a chance this week to be the youngest major winner of all time at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in California. Photo / Getty Images

A16 year-old from Bournemouth will this week tee off in her first major on her first trip to America in what will be her first professional event. But as the first golfer to win an Olympic gold medal in more than 100 years, do not expect Georgia Hall to be overawed.

Hall earned her invitation to the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage in California by dint of being the world No4 in the amateur rankings. The No1 happens to be 15 and is the only player in the field younger than Hall. Her name is Lydia Ko and all eyes at the Mission Hills Country Club will be on the Kiwi.

Last year, Ko broke records the world over, becoming the youngest ever winner on the Ladies European Tour and then the youngest ever on the Ladies' PGA Tour. It says much about her staggering talent that Ko is sixth favourite to prevail against the likes of the professional No1, Stacy Lewis, as well as Yani Tseng and Paula Creamer.

Hall, herself, is looking forward to meeting Ko, the girl who fearlessly leads the pig-tailed generation shaking up the women's game.

"I saw her on the range at the World Amateur Team Championships in Turkey last year, but didn't get to talk to her," says Hall. "It's amazing what she's done."

Hall has followed a different career path. Granted, she will not be going to university and intends to turn pro at the end of the year. But when it comes to leading her young life she is determined to maintain a balance.

Hall's father, Wayne, a plasterer, played off a handicap of three and had scratch in his sights when his 7-year-old daughter badgered him to take her along to the range.

By the age of 10 she was off 10 and the next year the unthinkable happened. "I'd got down to five when I first beat dad when I was 11," she says. Wayne has since given up golf. "He's too busy taking me to tournaments," Hall admits.

Last year would have told him never to underrate her ability. She not only became the British girls' champion, but also advanced to the semifinals of the British Ladies and won three other top-flight senior events.

"I don't think I finished out of the top three in any event I entered," Hall says. "I see the Kraft Nabisco as my reward for that run. I'm there for the experience, but am determined to go for everything and see where it leaves me."

Hall has a unique claim to fame. Golf will re-enter the Olympics in 2016 for the first time since 1904 and, as part of the build-up, the sport was reintroduced in the IOC's Youth Olympics in Sydney in January. Hall won the individual gold as well as helping Britain to team glory.

Ko could be forgiven for having half an eye on Rio, too, though she can never be accused of getting ahead of herself. Her incredible record in professional events will be put to the test this week when she plays in her third major. The 15-year-old from the Gulf Harbour Country Club is one of nine amateurs given a sponsor's exemption for the first major of the year at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, starting Friday (NZT).

Ko, who has climbed to No25 on the official world rankings, has never missed a cut in the 14 professional events she has played since making her debut in a pro event at the NZ Women's Open in 2010.

Now Ko gets a chance to be the youngest major winner of all time.

She has a good record in major championships. In 2012 she became the first Kiwi amateur to make the cut at the US Open when she finished in a share of 39th place to claim the amateur honours by one shot from American Emma Talley.

A few months later Ko managed testing conditions at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club to finish in a share of 17th place and leading amateur in her debut at the Open Championship.

Ko will face competition from Hall, Alison Lee, Doris Chen, Lindy Duncan, Camilla Hedberg, Isabelle Lendl, Stephanie Meadow and Ashlan Ramsey for the amateur honours, but has her eyes on an even bigger prize.

- Telegraph Group Ltd

- APNZ

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