As Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn made final preparations for the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open starting tomorrow, one thing became quite clear – there is no rivalry between the world’s top-two players … yet.
Ko begins her 2017 season at Royal Adelaide as the World No.1 – a position she has held for 69 consecutive weeks and one coveted by the World No.2, Jutanugarn, since August last year when she claimed her fifth LPGA Tour title in three months.
With tournament officials quietly hoping for a Sunday showdown between the two best female players on the planet, both women quickly played down the prospect of a rivalry, saying their self-expectations are their main focus.
“I try not to think of it as 'hey everyone's trying to chase me',” Ko said. "When we're out there, we're not thinking about 'what ranked player she is to me, or what I am?'
“I think it's important not to get carried away with awards or ranking, because at the end of the day we're all golfers trying to make as many birdies as we can and hopefully hold the trophy at the end of that week. That's the mindset I've tried to take.
“To me, I feel more self-pressure than pressure from others. Just because you're No. 1 doesn't mean I'll win every week.”
Jutanugarn was singing from the same song book.
“I want to play with my own expectations, so I don’t worry about the ranking at all,” she said.
Rankings aside, Ko’s well-documented switch from long-time coach David Leadbetter to Gary Gilchrist – who also coaches Jutanugarn – could have acted as kindling to a possible rivalry. It has for many players sharing coaches in the past. But it seems Ko and Jutanugarn are two girls that just want to have fun.
“We are friends, it’s going to be so much fun,” Jutanugarn said.
The strengthening bond between the two young superstars seems completely genuine, which certainly shouldn’t come as a shock as the players on the LPGA appear united in growing the women’s game.
“We’ve had so many great role models that have set the path,” said Ko, who is looking to add to her 14 LPGA victories with a second Australian Open title.
“So I think everyone on Tour… we’re trying to do the same.”
Ko couples her new instructor with a new equipment deal and is excited to be playing PXG clubs.
“I think they’re amazing. I’m getting a lot of good spin on my wedges and I think I’m getting a few extra yards with driver,” the 19-year-old New Zealander said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to come back off a break.”
Jutanugarn shares Ko’s excitement, and is approaching 2017 with a fresh attitude. “I’m just going to try my best with everything and try to be more happy on the course and try to have fun – that’s all I need to do,” said the 21-year-old, who opened her season with a T47 in the Bahamas two weeks ago.
Both women have been impressed by the layout at Royal Adelaide and acknowledged it will take something special to lift the Patricia Bridges Bowl on Sunday.
“I love the course, it’s in great shape and so hard and really challenging – especially the greens,” Jutanugarn said. “I just started working with my psychology coach last year – the key they taught me is how to be happy on the course, how to have fun and what I have to focus on.”