On Sunday afternoon, 16-year-old Amateur Lydia Ko carded a final-round 64 to defend her title at the CN Canadian Women’s Open.
Ko, who was born in South Korea but now resides in New Zealand, has won two professional events in 2013 and has won four professional events in just the past two years.
As the winner of this year’s CN Canadian Women’s Open, Ko could have pocketed $300,000. But as an amateur, she was unable to accept a dime for her five-stroke victory at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club.
Over the past two years alone, Ko could have earned more than $1 million on the golf course, not to mention the highly lucrative endorsement deals she would have undoubtedly secured.
Many golf analysts and LPGA Tour insiders seem to think Ko should remain an amateur and enjoy the rest of her high school years and even receive a college education before turning pro. Ko’s parents seem to share that train of thought. Ko herself has not really made her intentions known—other than the fact that she would eventually like to attend Stanford University, as Ewan Murray of The Guardian reports. And she has not said whether she intends to attend Stanford as an amateur or as a professional.
There have been numerous instances of teen phenoms turning pro and struggling mightily with the professional game. Michelle Wei, Ty Tryon and Tadd Fujikawa are just a few who come to mind.
Justin Rose is another golfer who turned pro at a young age and really struggled to find his way in the professional game for several years.
That being said, all golfers are created differently and possess different levels of skill and maturity.
So what is the downside of Ko in turning pro?
Ko is already attending numerous professional events around the world, so why not get paid for them?
Ko can still finish high school and go to college as a pro. She would just be more highly paid than most high school and college students.
What would be so different about Ko’s life if she decided to turn pro other than the fact that she would be a millionaire at the age of 16?
The other thing to consider is that there is no guarantee Ko’s current stellar play will continue for many years to come. It is somewhat inaccurate for people to make statements like “the money will always be there” when no one knows that for sure.
The number of young phenoms who lose their game actually far outnumber the number of young stars who have long and prosperous careers in professional golf.
Ko also underwent wrist surgery back in 2011. She is still very young and has obviously recovered well from the injury, but this is just another risk factor to consider when deciding whether or not to turn pro.
At this moment, Ko can compete week in and week out on the LPGA Tour. She would have already earned more than $1 million on the golf course over the past year, and she could easily earn as much if not more next year.
Add in some of the endorsements deals Ko would likely receive, and she could set herself up for life by turning pro tomorrow.
While it is easy to say Ko has plenty of time to enjoy her childhood and turn pro later, there is no guarantee the money will be waiting for Ko in two, three or four years. Suppose she gets injured, loses her game or simply loses her interest in competing?
Suppose the LPGA runs into serious financial troubles and ceases to exist in five years?
Suppose the LPGA loses a number of sponsors and has to cut its schedule in half?
If any of those unlikely scenarios were to occur, Ko could, of course, still go to college and become very successful in another field, as she seems like an incredibly bright young woman. However, life tends to be just a bit easier when you have $10 million sitting in the bank to fall back on.
Turning pro does not automatically mean Ko must quit school, spend 12 hours per day on the driving range and travel to every single LPGA Tour event around the world.
Golfers are independent contractors, and close to half of the LPGA Tour events take place during the summer months, when Ko would be off from school anyway.
So if Ko were to turn pro tomorrow, what would really change about her life other than the fact that she would be paid for playing at the same tournaments she is already attending as an amateur?
There are, of course, pros and cons, and Ko should proceed with caution when making this decision, just as she should with any major decision in her life.
But in this instance, the pros of turning professional seem to significantly outweigh the potential cons.
Ko could essentially live the same life she has been living while creating a financial cushion for herself few in this world could ever dream of.
Ultimately, this decision will rest squarely on the shoulders of Lydia Ko, and hopefully her ultimate decision will be based not only on what she feels is best for her right now but also on what might be best for her and her family 15-20 years down the line.