WORLD STARS EXCITED FOR UNIQUE TEST AT WALTON HEATH

The final Major of the year is finally upon us with the world’s best female golfers ascending on Walton Heath Golf Club for the 47th staging of the AIG Women’s Open.

Hosting the historic fifth Major of the season for the first time in its history, the Surrey track offers a unique test to the 144 players involved merging classic inland heather with a distinct links influence.

And with history up for grabs alongside a record-breaking winner’s share of $1.35 million, superstars from around the world are excited for the challenge ahead.

“It’s a completely different style of golf,” says World No 1 Nelly Korda, who with victorious on this side of the Atlantic last month at the Aramco Team Series – London Individual event.

“It plays pretty long, and it’s going to be a good challenge depending on what the weather is going to be like, if the course is going to firm up by the end of the week it could play completely different to the practice rounds.

“I would say depending on the weather and style of golf course, you have to have a lot of creativity out here. You have to hit shots you normally wouldn’t on other golf courses.”

A total of 144 players will be teeing up in England across 29 countries, with 29 Major champions involved including New Zealand’s Lydia Ko.

“I’ve only actually played well at the AIG Women’s Open like twice in my career,” Ko said, who begins her campaign on Thursday at 8:20 alongside Korda and Charley Hull. “Once was at Turnberry, and the second time was at Muirfield last year.

“This week’s course at Walton Heath is very different. Before I came here people said, ‘oh, this is a heathland-style course’, and I said, ‘I have no idea what that means’, and everybody was like, ‘stay out of the heather, stay out of the bunker’.

“I think when you know you’re going to a course that isn’t super linksy, you are a little sceptical because we only play over on this side of the world like a couple times and I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like.

“But you know, the golf course is super nice. It’s in really good condition, and it actually feels more linksy than you think, and the heather definitely comes into play. I’m excited. This feels like one of the longer in distance tournaments that we’ve played all year and I think it’s going to play tough. We’re forecasted to have nice weather these next few days, and I heard when this course gets drier, it actually gets more challenging. So I’m excited to see how the course changes over the next few days, too.”

While Ko and Korda are seeking to end their Major droughts this week and add a third or second title to their cabinets respectively, one world star looking to add a first to her name is America’s Rose Zhang – the former world number one amateur who has three top-10 finishes from three Major championship starts in 2023.

Full of confidence and teeing up in England for the first time ever this week, Zhang too is excited for the unique challenge ahead.

She said: “When I first heard about [Walton Heath], [I heard] it wasn’t really a links-style golf course. When I was out here, it definitely was different from the previous AIG Women’s Opens that I’ve played – Muirfield and Carnoustie –  those are very traditional links-style golf courses.

“So when I came out here, I was well aware of the heather. The heather is beautiful but it’s terrible to be in. Not somewhere you want to be this week. And I will say that I believe the course is beautiful. It’s playing a little bit softer. Just because there’s so much rain.”

Zhang gets underway at the AIG Women’s Open on Thursday at 12:49 alongside defending champion Ashleigh Buhai and Canada’s Brooke Henderson.

By DR MUHAMMAD HUSSAIN