Lydia Ko was chasing history in a quest to become the LPGA’s youngest winner ever. The best women’s golfers in the world were chasing her.
Yet, the bespectacled 15-year-old from New Zealand seemed totally unfazed throughout the CN Canadian Women’s Open, as outwardly oblivious to the tens of thousands of fans lining her fairways as she was ho-hum talking to the media afterwards. Still a year from being allowed to drive and two shy of high school graduation, Ko appeared in complete control of her game even as she admitted to nerves both off the course, where she wasn’t ready to talk to LPGA stars, and on it, where she was to beat those same idols.
“No, I’m too scared to talk to them,” Ko said early in a historic week, laughing through a slight Kiwi accent.
She didn’t look scared between the ropes, bouncing back quickly from every little hiccup en route to a three-stroke victory to become the youngest winner in LPGA history at 15 years, four months and three days old.
“I was most impressed with just her demeanor,” Stacy Lewis said after playing in the last pairing. “She played like she had been there before.”
"It feels like you are being beaten by a kid. I know she's good. The problem is she's too young to understand where she's at." - Suzann Pettersen
In a way, she has. So maybe chasing history is easier when you’ve already made it.
Ko, who was born in South Korea before moving to Auckland a decade ago, had already set a mark as the youngest winner on any professional golf tour back in January, when the won the New South Wales Open at 14 years, 9 months and 5 days.
Or maybe the spotlight of a final pairing on one of the LPGA’s best attended tournaments – by spectators and top players alike – is easier when you are only a week removed from becoming the second-youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Or maybe, as several top pros suggested, she’s just too young to know better.
“It feels like you are being beaten by a kid,” said Norwegian pro Suzann Pettersen, 31. “I know she’s good. The problem is she’s too young to understand where she’s at.”
Actually, Ko seemed to have a pretty good idea. She understood, even embraced, the fact she isn’t yet facing the added pressure of playing professionally. She wasn’t worrying about the $300,000 first place prize money because she couldn’t keep it anyway.
“I don’t have anything to lose,” Ko said. “I’m just here for experience. Even if I have a bad day, there are always things to learn, and from there I develop.”
While Ko downplayed rumblings she may turn pro as early as next year – the “Ready for the world’s stage” boast on her still-under-construction website didn’t help quell such talk – she admitted the choice could come as soon as 2014 LPGA Q-School. Her mother, Tina, confirmed that timeline to Global Golf Post, and while the younger Ko still talked excitedly about Stanford, her mother was more cautious in her optimism about university.
“She wants to study psychology and she always says ‘I want to go to Stanford,’ but it is not reality because she misses so many school days,” Tina said. “If she gets in for the LPGA Tour (in 2014), then we think if she is not playing college golf, she is playing professional and going to university at the same time – like Michelle Wie.”
It makes sense that Wie is one of those idols Ko was too scared to talk to. It also figures another is Lexi Thompson, who became the youngest LPGA winner before Ko last season. Neither made the cut, but Wie was asked early in the week about the challenges of playing so young.
“Never mind challenges,” Wie said. “It’s such a great experience. You grow up watching all these players, and you finally get to not only watch them, but play with them.”
That can change when you are out there as a pro, cautioned world No.1 Yani Tseng, who is in the midst of her first real slump. She warned that expectations can change everything.
“For her age, it’s no pressure. It’s just go out and enjoy playing with all the best golfers in the world and try to beat them,” Tseng said. “When you get some pressure, it gets really harder to enjoy because you worry about what people think when they look at you, you worry about if you didn’t play good that people are going to talk about ‘Oh, what’s wrong with Yani?’ But there is nothing wrong.
“We try to get used to it, but we still need to find balance.”
For her part, Ko seems to understand all this. She practices 40 hours a week, has amassed 75 absent days from school, and accepts she is an amateur in name only.
“I’m definitely missing out on teenager activities,” Ko said, though with a smile and no hint of regret. “I’d love to go out on Saturday night with my friends and watch a movie, but that happens like once a year or a couple times a year... I’m realizing golf is like a full-time job.”
It’s a job Ko seems ready for already, even if she’s too young to get paid for it.
Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free
IN THE MAY 13, 2013 ISSUE