Lydia Ko of New Zealand will be one of the favourites for the Women's British Open. - AFP
SOUTHPORT (AFP): Could this be the first year that a teenager wins the women's British Open? There's certainly three that have the credentials going into the upcoming major at Royal Birkdale.
Lydia Ko, 17, Charley Hull, 18, and Lexi Thompson, 19, are the present and the future of the women's game and are ready to replace Karrie Webb, who was 20 when she won the first of her three Championships in 1995, as the youngest ever winner.
Ko, who turned professional at the end of last year, has finished top amateur in the British Open for the past two years and now, as the world No.2 and the youngest in the field, is one of the favourites to lift the trophy on Sunday.
The New Zealander and her family moved to Florida this year and she has not yet graduated from high school.
"I've still got to finish my photography assignment but I hope to finish by the end of this year," she said.
"The big difference now that I have turned professional is that I'm playing full-time.
"I want to go on to university, but I don't know exactly when or where. I can do that any time."
Twice the winner of the Canadian Women's Open as an amateur, she claimed her first LPGA Tour victory as a professional in San Francisco in April and she has already notched up seven top ten finishes in her rookie season.
"I don't feel too young at 17 to be out here," she said. "Michelle and Lexi and Paula Creamer all started out when they were very young so I'm not the first one.
"And Lucy Li played in the US Women's Open at 11 last month so she made me feel very old."
England's Hull currently heads the Ladies' European Tour Order of Merit and was a key member of last year's history-making Solheim Cup victory - the first for Europe in the US - in Colorado last August.
The last time the women's Open was staged at Birkdale, a 14-year-old Hull just missed out on qualifying and then played with Stacy Lewis in the ProAm.
This year she is paired with the defending champion and world No.1 for the first two rounds.
Thompson won the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and is No.5 in the world.
At the other end of the age scale, Laura Davies, who was made a Dame in the recent Queen's Birthday Honours list, is the oldest in the field at the age of 50. She won her only British Open at Birkdale in 1986.
"I had a five shot victory and it seemed easy," she recollected. "At 50, the enthusiasm is still there. Ive nt given up on winning big tournaments."
Asked if she might still be playing at 50, bespectacled Ko was taken aback. "At 50?" she questioned with wide-eyed amazement. "No I don't think I'll be playing at 50."
For South Korea's Park Inbee, who won the US Open when she was a teenager in 2008, it is much more relaxing than last year.
At St Andrews, she went into the Championship having won the season's first three majors. Now at No.3 in the world she is flying under the radar. But don't count her out.