RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – For a 15-year-old world beater, Lydia Ko has a modest outlook. When it was time for Ko to take the podium Wednesday for a pre-Kraft interview, she took the seat that former World No. 1 Yani Tseng had occupied minutes before. Tseng was among the players to sing Ko’s praises here. The 15-year-old has a legitimate chance to win this tournament.
“I think everyone is being overly too nice,” Ko said with a straight face.
Tseng remembers Ko making this game look easy when they played together in February at the Women’s Australian Open. Ko shot 63 that day.
“She smiled, and after she made a putt, she was like, ‘Thank you, thank you very much.’ It was so easy. . . . I think I was like that when I played my best. It’s just that easy.”
But Ko already has three professional victories, and she knows what it’s like to have fans and media clamoring for her time. It has made the game that much more exciting, yet that much more serious.
“Obviously I’m trying my best out here, but I’ve come here for the experience,” she said.
As usual, Ko has made this trip stateside a golf sojourn. So far this week, the In N’ Out has been good to Ko, who is traveling only with her mother Tina. Back home in New Zealand, Ko knows of only one similar burger joint: Carl’s Jr.
More American perks await when Ko travels to Hawaii later in the month for the LPGA Lotte Championship. She never has been to that state.
Ko continues to chart her own path – racking up unprecedented success, learning to deal with the attention on her own, and soon, perhaps, playing sink or float in Poppie’s Pond. Asked if she can swim, Ko replied, “Well, I hope so. We’ll see then.”
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ONE AND DONE? When the World No. 1 amateur came to the desert this week, Patrick Boyd decided it was a caddie opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. Boyd, born and raised in the Coachella Valley, has caddied for Hannah Kim, Beth Bader and PGA Tour player Bio Kim. He was a mini-tour player in the early 1990s after being a three-time All-American at Cal State-Northridge.
Boyd works for Boyd & Associates, a family-owned security alarm systems business. When a friend of Ko’s whom Boyd had caddied for suggested he loop for Ko last summer at the U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Women’s Open, Boyd passed on the opportunity. Ko, of course, went on to win in Canada.
Even though Boyd says Ko’s bag is “the lightest I’ve ever picked up in my life,” he joked that he has seen a chiropractor no fewer than 15 times already this week. Still, if Ko comes back to the desert, Boyd hopes to get her bag again. Other than that, the Kraft is a one-off week for this duo.
“I’m a little too old to be doing the traveling,” Boyd said.
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AMONG LEGENDS: It’s been 18 years since Amy Alcott made the now-famous, annually repeated jump into Poppie’s Pond. In 25 years, the leap has become a rite of passage for Kraft champions. The silver anniversary of the jump was part of the reason Alcott decided to enter the field this week. She last played in 2008, but will tee off Thursday with 2009 U.S. Women’s Open champion Eun-Hee Ji.
Alcott, a three-time Kraft champion, first played this event when she was 19. The course has a different feel this year, but the tradition and the memories endure.
“The course is definitely longer,” said Alcott, 57. “From the way I look at it, the players hit it farther. From a pure player’s perspective, the course has a lot more length to it.”
Thanks to Alcott, the Kraft has a unique and deeply rooted tradition. A player can’t take the media platform in pre-tournament interviews and not field the question about how she might like to make the jump.
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IN GOOD HEALTH: Natalie Gulbis’ 2013 has been plagued with illness. After finishing 63rd at the Honda LPGA Thailand, Gulbis withdrew from the HSBC Champions and the RR Donnelley Founders Cup before confirming she had contracted malaria. Gulbis said she has spent much of the past month trying to play, getting fatigued and feeling like she’s back to square one.
“I feel good,” Gulbis said Wednesday. “This is the first event in the last month that I’ve actually registered for, so this is a good step in the right direction.”
Last year’s Kraft was notable for Gulbis: It was her first top-10 finish since May 2009.