WARMING UP FOR A HOT WEEK
The Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore is a magnet for the world’s greatest golfers and, sure enough, the five top women of the moment — Lydia Ko (New Zealand), Nelly Korda (America), Minjee Lee (Australia), Atthaya Thitikul (Thailand), and Jin Young Ko (Korea) — will all be teeing up in HSBC’s Women’s World Championship, alias Asia’s Major.
Jin Young Ko, the winner of last year’s instalment, and Minjee Lee, the ’22 US Open champion, each deserve a second mention while, to round up a second paragraph of name-dropping, all the other winners of the Western world’s majors will similarly be present and correct. Their names? Jennifer Kupcho (Chevron), Ingee Chun (KPMG LPGA championship), Brooke Henderson (Evian) and Ashleigh Buhah (AIG Women’s British Open).
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That there are as many as 11 different nationalities in the top 20 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings goes a long way towards explaining why the LPGA Tour and Singapore make for a perfect fit. The two are just about as cosmopolitan as each other, with Singapore Island, which has a total coastline of no more than 119 miles, boasting as many as four official languages in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay. Small wonder that so many players will tell you that there are few places in the world where they feel more at home.
Fine food and friendships are a feature of their Singaporean week and, when it comes to the latter, they remember their fans and the fans remember them. In some cases, the locals feel they have known these visitors all their lives and, where Lydia Ko is concerned, that is not too much of an overstatement. Ko was 17 when she came to the HSBC of 2015 with her main concern one of not ruffling any of the older players’ feathers. Today, she is 25 and a married woman who is not just on top of the world but the Rolex World Rankings.
`in ’15,, Ko’s fellow players could well have been trying to knock the living daylights out of her on the golf course. However, the moment the golf was over, they always did what they could to smooth her path.
For a delightful illustration from that occasion, the New-Zealander had to admit to being a little lost when she was one of eight players asked to participate in a fashion-shoot showcasing some of Shanghai Tsang’s famous designs.
“Should I bring my handbag?” she called after Jessica Korda as the party prepared to moved on to the Gala dinner.
“No, no,” said Korda as she turned on her heel to come and sort her out. “Bring all your stuff over here and let’s put it next to mine.”
Korda said at the time that she saw Ko as “a little sister” before adding, cheerfully, that she and her peers would often make humorous reference to how Lydia, who had already had an array of professional titles under her belt, should be looking after them rather than vice versa.
The fans, meanwhile, would marvel at how someone of Ko’s tender years could have become so good so soon, with some among them making cheerful comparisons between her and their own teenage offspring. “I can’t get my daughter out of bed in the mornings,” said one. “Mine’s still struggling to get her first handicap,” said a second. Yet another admitted that his daughter might have been rather better at golf “if she hadn’t been distracted by boys”.
For one more prodigy in Ko’s league, the LPGA Tour was recently joined by the now 19-year-old Atthaya Thitikul, a teenager who had a first taste of being the World No 1 across October and November of ’22.
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Back in ’18, the first thing to notice about this talented, then 15-year-old Thai was that she had not tried to dress up to the nines to tee up among the professionals in Singapore. Refreshingly, she came across as every inch the unspoiled schoolgirl she intended to remain until she turned professional which, in fact, was at the end of ’20.
Another thing you had to like about the teenager was her on-course demeanour. She was not seeking any of the limelight and, on those rare occasions when she made a mistake, she was never about to blame anyone other than herself.
So who is going to win this week? Your guess is as good as mine. All that can safely be said that every one of the competitors will be as excited as the next as they touch down at Singapore Changi Airport and set off down the road to the city centre.
This short trip has touches of that moment when a golfer turns into Magnolia Lane at Augusta or catches his or her first glimpse of the ancient spires of St Andrews.
The wildflowers, the shrubs, the ships and the sunny skyscrapers will all conspire to have the women thinking their first major event of ’23 is in the right place at the right time.