Lydia Ko is golf’s latest wunderkind from New Zealand. Who is this precocious youngster and why does she warrant such interest?
Ms. Ko at the ripe old age of 15 has won three professional golf tournaments and the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
She was born in South Korea, but her family moved to New Zealand when she was quite young. She began playing golf when her mother took her to a golf course when she was just five years old.
Golf fans in America first began hearing about Ko in January, 2012 after she won the Bing Lee/Samsung Women’s NSW Open on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour. Just 14 years old at the time, she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tournament.
Ryo Ishikawa was the previous title holder of the youngest person to win a professional golf tournament when he won in Japan at the tender age of 15 years 8 months.
Traveling to North America in early July, 2012 Ko won low amateur honors in the USGA’s U.S. Women’s Open held at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin. She shot 74-72-79-75 to finish T-39.
With the confidence that she gained playing with the big girls at the U.S. Women’s Open she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Cleveland in early August. The Women’s Amateur is all match play and she defeated 18-year-old Jaye Marie Green 3 & 1 in the final match.
Her most magnificent summer did not stop there. She was invited to play in an LPGA Tour event, the CN Canadian Women’s Open in Vancouver. On August 26, her win there made her the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event. She was 13-under par for the four rounds and beat an elite field that included reigning U.S. Women’s Open Champion, Na Yeon Choi, as well as Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis.
Lexi Thompson had been the youngest to win on the LPGA Tour when she won in September, 2011 at the age of 16 years 11 months.
In addition to her U.S. Women’s Amateur win in 2012, Ko added wins in the Australian Women’s Amateur Golf Championship and was the low medalist in the World Women’s Amateur Golf Championship that was held in Turkey. She has been the No. 1 ranked Women’s Amateur player in the world for two years.
It could be argued that even though Stacy Lewis had a marvelous year on the LPGA and became the first American to be named the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year since 1994, Lydia Ko’s year was more impressive.
Ko has continued her strong play into 2013. Earlier in February she won her third professional event. The Ladies European Tour’s (LET) ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open.
The very next week she led after 54 holes in the Women’s Australian Open the first event of the 2013 LPGA season. She faltered to a final-round 76 and finished third behind the winner, former world No. 1, Jiyai Shin and runner-up, current world No. 1, Yani Tseng.
It takes top-ranked professional women golfers playing at their best to better Lydia Ko.
What she has accomplished as a mere teenager is amazing. She is still in high school and has stated that she would like to attend Stanford before turning professional.
Given her propensity to beat other lady professionals with such ease it is unlikely that she will see the inside of many classrooms in Palo Alto or at any other university.
The LPGA requires women to be 18 years old before granting membership. Exceptions have been made in the past but LPGA commissioner Michael Whan does not want to issue membership to young ladies under the age of 17.
LPGA professionals are required to attend dinners and cocktail parties that are held in conjunction with LPGA Tour events. These can become awkward for a young woman among the hardened professional golfers and business people at the events.
Lexi Thompson received an exemption to join the LPGA after she turned 17. Ko will turn 17 on April 24, 2014. Her coaches and advisers are already recommending that as a target date for LPGA membership and professional status.
Ko has won on the ALPG Tour, the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA.
The LPGA is in a growth pattern and Commissioner Whan needs young fresh talent to keep the LPGA brand exciting and on the media’s front pages.
The LPGA prides itself as being a world tour. Ko brings more attention from the South Pacific as well as Asia and is also popular in the United States. She will be a celebrity wherever she travels and decides to tee it up.
The LPGA needs Lydia Ko and will welcome her with open arms when she decides to play for pay.
Because of her outstanding record over the past two years she has been invited to play in the 2013 Kraft Nabisco the first major of the year on the LPGA Tour.
In addition to her good finish in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open she was also T-17 in the 2012 British Women’s Open. Can a win in a women's major tournament be in her near future?
As a golfer Lydia Ko can be compared to Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods as teenagers and that's pretty good company with which to be aligned.
She is still very young and there is much of her story yet to write. Let’s enjoy her youthful exuberance and outstanding golf game.
It is highly unusual to see a young amateur compete at such a high level against professionals in any sport or endeavor.
Lydia Ko’s future is very promising.