The differing opinions on 15-year-old Lydia Ko were never going to disturb the player; she just carried on quietly with her golfing business.
You notice, for a start, that she does not go in for any of the usual contortions on the follow-through by way of encouraging her shots to fly this way or that. In her young life, nothing has ever happened to make her doubt that the ball is going anywhere other than bang on target.
No wonder her mother, Tina, was one of the less-stressed parents at Hoylake. Yes, she followed every shot but she had no trouble in carrying on a conversation at the same time. Like Michelle Wie’s family, the Kos’ history is more academic than sporty. Lydia’s father was in banking but is now retired. Tina is an English graduate, while Lydia’s older sister is an architect.
Lydia loves to read. She scored 99 percent in a recent maths exam, though Tina is quick to suggest that it is the retired maths professor who proffered individual tuition who deserves most of the credit.
At the start of the year, the plan was that Lydia would sit eight Cambridge Board “O” Grades at her New Zealand high school. However, even before she won the US Amateur and the Women’s Canadian Open, her parents went to see theprincipal and cut the eight to four – Maths, English, History and Physical Education. The feeling was that any more would be asking too much with her busy schedule.
The Canadian Open result came as a shock to the family. When, in her posttournament press conference, Lydia said she liked the sound of going to college, her mother felt constrained to mention that she missed so much school that that was unlikely to happen.
The truth is that they are listening and learning all the time. At Hoylake, Lydia spoke with Michelle Wie. They all admire the way Michelle has divided her time between golf and Stanford but, on the other hand, Tina suspects that it could just make sense for her daughter to play her golf now and catch up on her schooling later.
“Lydia,” she mentioned, “has said she does not want to do too long a time when she is a professional golfer. We talk about it often.”
If that were their chosen route, it would tie in with what Laura Davies said last week. Davies is no King Herod among golfers: She never had any reservations about Wie playing in their tournaments when she was 13 and, by the same token, she has delighted in Ko’s feats. She thinks the girl is brilliant but hazards a guess that she will not be playing beyond the age of 30.
“By the time Lydia’s 30,” said this winner of four majors, “she will have had 23 years of beating balls on a daily basis. If she doesn’t have injury problems by then – something which is pretty unlikely – she will simply have had enough.”
In some ways, an earlier, quicker golfing career – like swimming or gymnastics – makes sense for girls. Kevin Craggs, the Scotland coach, is just one to see things that way. He has known any number of promising pupils who, on reaching their later 20s, lose interest as they start thinking about having a family.
On a slightly different tack, he points to how juniors are nowadays being trained on all fronts – technical, mental, coursemanagement, etc. – earlier than ever before. They play an endless round of tournaments and, by the time they reach 18, all but the most dedicated are no longer stimulated by the amateur environment. They are bored rigid and their games have lost their spark.
“As the national coach, it is a big frustration for me,” said the coach, who added that many of these players will turn professional simply by way of having something different to do – and never mind that their stroke-play averages tell their own story of how they do not have a hope of making it.
The situation is likely to be exacerbated as, over in New Zealand, hundreds of would-be Lydia Kos are now starting at age 4 and having golf lessons in primary schools from the age of 5.
Because of Craggs’ comments about the amateur game and its intensity are relevant all over the world, these young things may have to turn professional in their mid-teens if they are not to be burnt out before they arrive on tour. It goes without saying that this is unlikely to be the best move for their wider development, but are there enough people out there giving any thought to this eminently possible scenario? What, for instance, will happen to the less-talented versions of Ko who have nothing in the way of a Plan B up their sleeves?
Shona Malcolm, CEO of the LGU, believes that officialdom has a duty of care; a duty to take stock: “Some sort of collaboration between the amateur and professional bodies is vital. Not just for the sake of the children concerned but for the game overall.”
Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free
IN THE MAY 13, 2013 ISSUE