7 Jul 2016

Battle of the teen golf queens

9:59 am on 7 July 2016

Opinion - We've hardly had time to savour the prodigiously talented Lydia Ko being the best women's golfer in the world when suddenly there's a pretender to her crown.

Fresh-faced Canadian Brooke Henderson is only 18, a year younger than Ko, and is already being spoken of as the next big thing on the women's tour.

Ko and Henderson, with one Major title each in 2016, line up this weekend for the United States Open at CordeValle, California, where they will definitely be the star attractions.

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson, right, is nipping at the heels of Lydia Ko. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

These are hectic times for the top women.

Ko won the first Major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, in April. Henderson bounced back by grabbing the next Major, the Women's PGA Championship, winning a play-off against Ko.

Since then both talented teenagers have won again on the regular tour. Now they're eyeing the US Open, the British Open and the Olympics, all within five weeks.

It's incredible even to think that Ko's position as the queen of golf is under threat.

The New Zealander's career has been one of virtually non-stop success - youngest player to win a professional women's tournament (at 14), youngest winner on the LPGA tour (at 15), youngest world No. 1 (at 17), youngest women's Major winner (at 18).

She's been ranked No. 1 in the world for 56 weeks, and is ready to be placed alongside Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and Inbee Park, the giants of women's golf over the past 15 years.

But suddenly Henderson has hove into view.

She's already beaten Ko's record as the youngest winner of a professional tournament and, like Ko, won her first Major at 18.

Though Henderson and Ko are both brilliant golfers, they are a total contrast.

Ko is not a big hitter, but is canny and safe. Henderson really smashes the ball, which makes her compelling to watch.

Ko is noted as arguably the best putter on the women's tour, but under intense pressure Henderson was brilliant in winning the PGA Championship last month. Some of the putts she sank in the closing stages were stupendous and spoke volumes for her temperament.

Ko seems to have squashed an entire career into just her teenage years.

She has three times been named New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year. She holds the record (jointly with Sorenstam) for most consecutive sub-par rounds on the LPGA tour - 29.

She has already won $US6.7 million in prizemoney, quite apart from her sponsorship income, and has been named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential figures.

Ko comfortably holds the world No. 1 ranking at present, and looked to be lengthening the gap on her pursuers until Henderson burst through.

One of the most appealing aspects of watching Ko is that she is so down-to-earth and approachable.

She seems like a fun-loving teenager, happy to share her mother's baking with her playing partners, and always ready for a chat.

But until now her destiny has seemed preordained. She was such a good golfer and so young she was clearly headed right for the top.

It will be fascinating over the next few weeks to see if she can maintain her calm demeanour and sunny outlook while having someone even younger and just as talented hunting her.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.