At 14, Lydia Ko was already a record breaker. Her 2012 victory in the Women’s NSW Open on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour was, at that stage, at the youngest age in professional golf. Ko was firmly on course for greatness.
So much has been said about Ko’s development and achievements – or lack of them – since those teenage years but, at 23, she has her swagger back. There would not appear many firsts left in the life of the New Zealander but two have been achieved this week. In her maiden visit to Dubai, Ko will make her debut under floodlights during the Ladies European Tour’s Moonlight Classic, which starts on Wednesday.
If Ko is the star name in the field, attention should also be drawn towards the 14-year-old Chiara Noja. Born in Germany but raised in England and having recently relocated to Dubai in a bid to enhance her golf development, Noja is making her first LET start as an amateur.
Noja could do a lot worse than seek out Ko for some life lessons. “I think it will be a fantastic experience for Chiara and I hope she manages to enjoy every minute of it,” said Ko. “It’s a great event for her to have her first taste of professional golf and I am sure she will learn lots from hanging about with all the professional players here.
“Everyone was so welcoming when I got my first start in a pro event which helped settle my nerves and I just kept reminding myself to have fun in the moment. That’s what I would advise her to do, have as much fun as possible.”
Proof that Noja can revel in more experienced fields was delivered at the women’s amateur championship, where she reached the last eight. “I couldn’t believe it when the tournament director contacted me to confirm that I will be playing in the Dubai Moonlight Classic,” she said. “I will be able to test myself against the very best women in the world. I only arrived in Dubai a few weeks ago, but I already feel at home here. I am working hard on my game every day and hopefully I’ll be able to make the best possible use of this invitation and show not only my fellow competitors but the Ladies European Tour that I deserve my spot.”
Ko’s arrival is something of a coup for the LET. The two-times major winner seems fascinated by the day-night concept, where shotgun starts mean half the field compete under floodlights each day at the Emirates Club. Ko will head back to Florida from the Middle East, to compete in the Pelican Women’s Championship from 19 November.
“This is a unique event,” Ko said. “I haven’t seen anything like this before and I have always wanted to visit Dubai. I’ve been fortunate enough to have opportunities before but time-wise it has never worked. I’m excited to have found the perfect time to come here, enjoy the golf course and enjoy Dubai.
“It’s quite amazing how quickly the sun sets; you just see it falling and falling on the skyline here. I’m using a local caddie this week and I’m going to have to rely a lot on his advice. Green-reading feels and looks a little different, most of the time it [break] looks less than it actually is. It’s going to be interesting and a lot of fun, I always like playing in different conditions. You have to be very focused because you aren’t playing under sun where you can just hit the ball out there. You just have to keep it straight so it’s within the floodlit line and beyond that, trust your game and your swing.”
Ko is now coached by Sean Foley, who counts Tiger Woods and Justin Rose among his former pupils. “He makes for less confusion and it feels like we have really progressed,” Ko explained. “Every time I go to a lesson it isn’t just about the technical standpoint but also having a better understanding of my game. The better understanding I have of my own swing, the less dependent I get. I can go back to basics and key points a lot quicker from there.”
The LET confirmed on Tuesday that Annabel Dimmock, Catriona Matthew and Ursula Wikström have been removed from the Dubai draw after testing positive for Covid-19. “The players, who had not, and have still not, exhibited any symptoms, were tested upon arrival into Dubai on Monday morning,” said a statement. “The three players have followed all the LET guidance and protocols put in place to mitigate the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and will now remain in self-isolation for a minimum of 14 days in accordance with the mandatory health authority and medical professional guidelines.”