No. 1 Ko thrilling fans, playing in native N.Z. Open

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Lydia Ko is skipping this week’s LPGA event in Thailand to play in her New Zealand homeland for the first time as the Rolex world No. 1.

“It’s really awesome to be in that position now, and it is great to share this No. 1 ranking with all the people in New Zealand,” Ko said in her news conference before Friday’s start of the New Zealand Women’s Open.

At 17, Ko will be playing her national open for the sixth time. She won it as a 15-year-old amateur. It’s a Ladies European Tour event, with LET officials reporting that Ko’s news conference Wednesday was staged in a packed room.

“I guess a lot of expectations are on me, but to me it’s just fun coming home,” Ko said. “When I’m playing in the States, there are a lot of international people supporting me, but to have people in my homeland supporting me is totally different. The result is the second thing.”

Ko said she loves seeing all the juniors out following her.

“They say, ‘You’re my favorite player’ or `You’re my role model.’ I’m still under 18, and still a junior. For another girl or boy to say `You’re my role model’ kind of makes me feel special,” Ko said. “I feel like I need to work harder, so I really become that role model they look up to. I think just to be able to inspire is the coolest thing.”

Ko was asked what it’s like coming home with the No. 1 ranking.

“It’s pretty weird,” she said. “I used to go out wishing I could be No. 1. It was my dream goal, and to be there now is pretty awesome. I’d never imagined myself being in that position. It’s going to be tough each week, but I’m just going to think about my own game, and if someone plays better golf than I do, then the rankings change, and there is not much I can do about it.”