I’ve been waiting for this pairing for months. Lydia Ko and Charlie Hull are paired for the Friday and Saturday rounds at the New Zealand Women’s Open! They’re not the only golfers in the field, they may not even be the best golfers in the event — we won’t have the answer to that one until Sunday afternoon — but Ko and Hull are the future of the game. I predict we’ll see them replay this shootout again and again in the years to come, so let’s settle in for the battle of the youngsters.
It might not look like much of a contest at first glance. Lydia Ko’ s Rolex Ranked No. 4 and Charley Hull’s ranked No. 100. Ko’s the defending champion at the New Zealand Women’s Open and looking to nail down her second pro victory. She’s already recorded back-to-back defenses at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 and 2013. Hull’s still hunting her first professional win.
Let look a bit deeper. They’re both 17 years old. Hull turned pro in January 2013, and Ko in October. For both teens this move was a natural progression from very successful amateur careers.
In her first five pro events Hull nailed down 2nd place finishes at Lalla Melryem Cup, South African Women’s Open, Turkish Airlines Ladies Open, Deloitte Ladies Open and a playoff loss at the UniCredit Ladies German Open.
Lisolette Neumann picked Hull for Team Europe’s 2013 Solheim Cup and Hull put on a stunning display of powerhouse golf, facing down and defeating Paula Creamer in their singles match. Hull ended her rookie season by collecting the LET Rookie of the Year award.
Ko has played in three events since she turned pro: the 2013 CME Group Titleholders, the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters, and the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. She finished the Titleholders outside the top-10, her first pro event, in a 21st place tie, won the Swinging Skirts and finished in a 7th place tie at the Pure Silk-Bahamas. There’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of in this brief pro record, but the up and down suggests Ko’s still settling in to her professional career.
What about their technical games? Ko and Hull have equivalent driving distances, right at 250 yards, although Ko is a bit more accurate than Hull, better at getting to the green in regulation, and has a slightly lower scoring average. By the numbers, Ko has a bit of edge over Hull going into the New Zealand tournament, and because she’s playing on home ground for the first time since turning pro and is also the defending champion she may have the mental edge as well.
On the other hand, Hull isn’t playing under the pressure Ko must surely be feeling at this point in her career. Hull’s parents have resisted her commoditization while Ko’s parents have embraced it. As a result Ko is playing golf under the umbrella of new corporate management, new corporate sponsorship, and a new coach. That’s a great deal of simultaneous new influence for any athlete of any age to manage and assimilate.
As I began, this is a pairing I’ve been anticipating for months and I’ll watch their rounds closely and with enormous interest. Given the variables, this could be Ko’s tournament to lose and Hull’s to win. But there’s going to be a spectacular shootout along the way!