Spander: Persistent Ko repeats as Skirts champ 

click to enlarge Lydia Ko, LPGA’s No. 1-ranked player who is only 18, won the Swinging Skirts for the second consecutive year at the Lake Merced Golf Club on Sunday, finishing at 8-under. - ERIC RISBERG/AP
  • Eric Risberg/AP
  • Lydia Ko, LPGA’s No. 1-ranked player who is only 18, won the Swinging Skirts for the second consecutive year at the Lake Merced Golf Club on Sunday, finishing at 8-under.
DALY CITY — This kid’s got it, big-time, the game, the composure, the success. She’s No. 1 in the LPGA rankings, and she’s only 18. As of four days ago. Lydia Ko already has been called the Tiger Woods of women’s golf, a 5-foot-tall giant from New Zealand who hits her woods a mile and her putts into the cup.

Two years they’ve held the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club. Two years Ko has won. A year ago with a birdie on 18 to hold off Stacy Lewis. This time with a birdie on 18 to win a sudden-death playoff over Morgan Pressel that lasted two holes.

“What should I tell her?” Pressel, 26, a major champion back in 2007, said rhetorically when asked about advice for Ko. “I don’t think she needs any advice from me. Whatever she’s doing, I would stick with it.”

Ko closed with a 2-under-par 70 Sunday, two shots better than Pressel. Each finished with an 8-under total 280 on the course in Daly City, not far from the Pacific Ocean or the San Francisco city line. Overnight leader Brooke Henderson, the teenage Canadian, came in third at 281.

Pressel and Ko went back to 18, an uphill par-5 that doglegs around numerous trees, and each parred. They returned to the same tee. This time, Ko hit her approach 6 feet from the pin.

One swing of the putter, plunk. Victory No. 7 in a career that seems destined to end with, well, 70 is a bit of an exaggeration, but she’s going to get better and better.

“She’s just a very classy individual,” said Pressel, who is very classy herself, “and very talented.”

Also, as others from her home country, New Zealand, she’s very unpretentious. As in neighboring Australia, people in the other Down Under nation don’t appreciate arrogance. You can be a star, but you’d better not act like one. Ko certainly doesn’t. She not only plays the right shots, she says all of the right things.

“It’s never easy to win,” she said. “You’re playing good golf, and then someone beats you by a shot. That can happen. It’s just really out of your hands.”

Or, as Sunday, it was in Ko’s hands, and in a way out of Pressel’s. Morgan made a 40-footer for an eagle on the par-5 sixth to take the lead on a day when the sun was bright but the west wind was chill.

Then, two shots clear at 10-under par for the tournament after 14, Pressel, who conceded “I wasn’t on my A-game,” bogied 15 and 16. When Ko birdied 18, the tournament was tied.

“I had plenty of chances out there,” Pressel said. She has been around for a while but won only twice on the LPGA Tour, although one was the Kraft Nabisco, and at 17, she became the youngest champion of an LPGA major. Time passes so quickly.

“The way Lydia plays is very impressive,” said Pressel. “This is a great golf course. It’s a tough task.”

Ko is a tough little lady, who after playing with coke-bottle bottom eyeglasses all her brief life now wears contact lenses. Different appearance, same determination. Although behind a claim she gets nervous.

“Why wouldn’t you?” she asked. “I’m an 18-year-old, and I’m very nice.” Until she’s ready to stomp you in competition.

“Yeah,” she insisted, “I do get nervous. You have to take my word on that. If some people think I don’t look nervous, then it’s a good thing.”

Whatever, Ko keeps her nerve. She began with bogies on the first two holes Sunday, and so many golfers, men or women, would have collapsed, shot 78 or 80. Not Lydia Ko. She just keeps playing as if very shot were important, and every shot is important.

“I told myself, ‘Man this is an awful start,’” Ko told the media. “Yeah, it was pretty bad. ... Last year after four holes, I was 1 over, then 2, but I was able to bring it back with some good birdies. This time I said, ‘Don’t worry about what happened. Just keep going. There are some birdies out there.’”

Enough, it turned out, to make it 2-for-2 at the Swinging Skirts. Wait till next year.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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Art Spander

Art Spander

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Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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