CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (April 26, 2011) -- Lydia Ko is the youngest New Zealand Lion Foundation New Zealand Amateur golf champion in a history that dates back to 1894.
The North Harbour teenager, who turned 14 on Sunday, overcame two-time champion and good friend Cecilia Cho 4 and 3 at the Russley Golf Club with superb golf in the final 18 holes.
Meantime in the men’s draw Srixon Academy member Mathew Perry outclassed former New Plymouth golfer Steven Heyes (Russley) by 4 and 2 to secure his first Lion Foundation New Zealand Amateur title.
The women’s match with both Ko (14) and Cho (16) chasing history attracted the biggest gallery in cool conditions at Christchurch and early in the second round the North Shore golfer took the ascendancy.
After making a fine birdie on the 18th to get the match back to all square, she birdied the opening hole (19th) to go 1up to set the tone as the battle of the ages lived up to its hype.
Standing on the 7th tee, Ko was 1-up and delivered one of her best shots of the tournament to a foot of the hole on the demanding par three. The following hole, Cho drove into the rough and made bogey gifting Ko a three up advantage.
From there she never looked back and it was a crucial 20 foot par save on the 14th that made her dormy 4 heading to the par 15th. Ko left her birdie putt two feet below the hole and when Cho missed her 15 foot putt for birdie Lydia Ko was confirmed as the youngest winner in the tournament’s history.
“It means a lot to win the New Zealand Amateur title and being the youngest makes it even better,” said Ko.
“It was my goal at the start of the week to win the NZ Stroke Play and NZ Amateur titles and I am really proud to achieve it.
“It was a tough match today with Cecilia, she is a great golfer and I had to play my best to win.”
It was an interesting dynamic between the two golfers that are good friends who were serious and focused throughout the battle.
“There was some rivalry there but we talked some of the time, we both love to win so it is hard,” said Ko.
“It was nice to beat her by the same margin as she beat me [in 2009] and to finally beat her in matchplay – it is one all now.”
Ko and Cho shared a hug and there were a few tears from Cho as she came so close to becoming the first woman in more than a century to win the title three times in a row. It was a superb run of golf from the Auckland number one.
But Ko is used to writing her own history and she achieved a number of records.
She is the youngest New Zealand Amateur champion aged 14 years and two days beating previous youngest Larissa Eruera (Aviation) in 2008 who was 14 years and nine months.
She becomes the first woman golfer from the North Shore Golf Club to win the New Zealand Amateur title – Richard Lee won the title in 1992 Men’s Amateur at the Otago Golf Club. Sharon Ahn (North Shore) had previously won the NZ Strokeplay title in 2005.
She follows in the footsteps of Dana Kim (Christchurch) in 2008 in achieving a rare feat of winning both the New Zealand Strokeplay and New Zealand Amateur titles at the same championship.
Before Kim the first New Zealander to win the strokeplay-matchplay double at the same championship was Brenda Ormsby in 1980, although Ormsby won both in separate tournaments. Ko is the first to repeat that feat since.
Earlier in the week Ko became the first woman to win both the New Zealand Strokeplay and Australian Strokeplay champion in the same year, and the youngest winner in both events, she won the NZ event by nine shots.
Cho, whose unbeaten New Zealand Amateur run ends at 14, was respectful in defeat.
“Lydia played well this afternoon and deserved her win,” said Cho.
“I am sad to lose but I am proud of what I achieved the last two years – winning in the playoff last year was special – but I want to congratulate Lydia on her win here.”
Perry’s win of the NZ Men’s title was impressive for its own reasons.
He is the first golfer from the Hamilton Golf Club to win the title since Colin Taylor in 1983 (Titirangi) and the fifth in the club’s history after Taylor, Stuart Reese (1975), D.L (Tim) Woon (1953, 54) and Sloan Morpeth (1920).
Perry was looking forward to heading home to Hamilton to have a beer with his club-mates to celebrate his best achievement in his amateur golf career.
“It’s up there with anything I have done in golf,” said the 24-year-old Perry.
“It is nice to add my name to a list of legends of New Zealand Golf and get my name on that big trophy.”
Perry arrived in Christchurch with low expectations after being knocked out in the second round last year and making it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Amateur in March.
“Anything is possible with matchplay,” said Perry.
“It was a battle all day and I am so pleased how I hung in there when it got tough.
“It has always been one of my goals to win this event and even when there were times when I was playing great I still fought hard and was mentally tough – that is what got me through was my mental toughness.”
Perry made a crucial turnaround in the morning winning the final two holes of the opening round to take the advantage. He headed into the final nine holes 3up and played solid golf to maintain his advantage
“It was all about momentum. I made a good birdie on the 3rd and the 6th that got me to 3up - there is a big difference between 3up and 2up – I kept it together and it was just a matter of running out the holes.”
The 19-year-old Heyes, who had not played a tournament all year, was erratic in the final nine holes but proud of what he had achieved at his new home course.
“You can’t take it away from Mat,” said Heyes, who knocked out number one seed Ryan Fox in round two.
“He was solid throughout and he fully deserved it. I couldn’t get anything going this afternoon, I missed a lot of fairways and that put a lot of pressure on me to get up and down. You can’t win like that.
“But I am proud of what I achieved this week and I’ll go home happy.”
It was a great week of golf at the Russley Golf Club with Ryan Fox crowned the New Zealand Men’s Stroke Play Champion and Mathew Perry the New Zealand Amateur Champion.
But the 2011 Lion Foundation New Zealand Amateur will be remembered as the time when a young 14 year old by the name of Lydia Ko became the youngest champion in its 117 year history.
Lion Foundation New Zealand Amateur Matchplay Final Results:Men: Mathew Perry (Hamilton) bt Steven Heyes (Russley) 4 and 2Women: Lydia Ko (North Shore) bt Cecilia Cho (Pakuranga) 4 and 3