Ko, Jutanugarn play practice round in Australia

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Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn didn’t wait until Thursday’s start of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open to square off for the first time in 2017.

They played a practice round together Tuesday.

Actually, that’s part of what they hope is a new perk now that they are both being trained under the same coach, Gary Gilchrist. He’s encouraging his players to compete together in practice rounds when they’re back home at their Orlando bases.

“I think it’s great,” Ko said. “I think it just shows what kind of a coach Gary is, and at the same time, it gives trust to me, trying to see what he’s done with these girls.”

Before leaving for Australia, Ko played a practice round at Isleworth in Orlando with Shanshan Feng, Paula Creamer and Yani Tseng, all Gilchrist pupils.

Gilchrist was there watching.

A few days before that, Ariya and sister Moriya Jutanugarn played with Tseng at Lake Nona.

“The funny thing is, they have so much fun together,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist believes there are huge benefits for his players competing against each other in practice rounds.

“They all want to beat each other, but it’s a healthy rivalry,” Gilchrist said. “Why should they hate each other and not talk to each other? They’re all going to make each other better. If the best player wins, she wins. So, you have to go out next time and hole more putts.

“They all live in the Orlando area. If they’re competing against each other at home, when they go back out on tour, they’ll all be better.”

Gilchrist is based at Mission Inn Resort, just north of Orlando.

“I told Paula, this is what made her great growing up (at the IMG Leadbetter Academy),” Gilchrist said. “She played everybody there, boys and girls, and it made her better.

“There was a guy named Mark O’Meara who started playing golf with a guy named Tiger Woods. In one year, Mark O’Meara won two majors. If O’Meara never played with Tiger, he would never have won those majors. I’d put my life on it.”