Lydia Ko on rapid rise to top of women's golf

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 09:50 11/02/2013
Lydia Ko
Photosport
RAPID RISE: New Zealand is witnessing the emergence of the future star of international women's golf.

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OPINION: A few thousand people at Clearwater - and golfing media worldwide - were left searching for adjectives to describe Lydia Ko and her feats after the New Zealander claimed her third professional title at the ripe old age of 15 yesterday.

Few, if any, seem appropriate to use in conjunction with this teenage golfing phenom.

Sure, SBW might have been dominating sporting headlines in New Zealand and Australia, but Ko's feats in winning the New Zealand Women's Open in Christchurch yesterday caught the attention of a wider international media audience, from Australia, to Asia, to Europe and the United States.

The Golf Channel in the US were scrambling for footage of the tournament to do a piece on Ko - what a shame there was no live telecast of the event, which she was one of the clear favourites to win, but that's another story.

We probably don't know how lucky we are to have the opportunity to witness her playing on New Zealand shores. Before long the North Harbour school pupil will probably be winning LPGA Tour events for fun - she's already started, actually - and if she only just maintains where her game as at right now, let alone improve it, major championship titles surely are not far away.

That's huge expectation to place on a 15-year-old but a) it is realistic (after all, she will probably be ranked close to 20th in the world now) and b) it wouldn't worry or affect her one little bit.

You've only got to listen to, or read on Twitter, what seasoned professionals think of Ko and her abilities. Most describe her as a superstar already.

She played two rounds at the New Zealand Open alongside the the European No 1 Carlota Ciganda of Spain, and America's world No 19, Angela Stanford. With respect to those players and their achievements, Ko looked in a different class in every facet of the game.

And this was the best field ever assembled in New Zealand, with 32 LPGA Tour players - and several winners - as well as many of Europe and Australia's finest in town. They all had nothing on the amateur Ko, who incredibly now has three wins and two-runner finishes in 12 professional tournaments.

Technically she is brilliant, her course management and awareness top drawer and, most crucially, she is seemingly unflappable when it comes to the mental side of things. Ko had plenty of opportunities to fall apart under the pressure in Christchurch, with the expectation and pressure that comes with being a favourite at your national open, but she didn't flinch once and enjoyed every moment.

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The world No 1 amateur's putter wasn't always kind but when it came to the clutch moments - like sinking a five-footer for birdie on 15, a six-footer for par on 17 and a knee-knocking three-footer for par on 18, when you could cut the tension in the crowd with a knife - Ko stood tall.

She didn't act anything like a 15-year-old kid when she sank that last putt, she simply hugged her fellow players and acknowledged the rapturous applause, almost embarrassed to accept it such is her humility.

There was a hint that she is human though, when she shed a few tears walking off the green. She later said she's not the sort of person to show emotion of feelings but the win had meant so much to her, rating it above her most notable win, the LPGA Tour's Canadian Open last year but alongside her US Amateur Championship triumph.

So in the past 13 months Ko has become the youngest ever winner of a professional event, men or women, at last January's New South Wales Open, then 14, the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour with her Canadian Open victory, and the youngest winner on the European Tour with her victory yesterday.

A golf official was overheard to say the only person who could top her achievements as an amateur is Bobby Jones, winner of 13 major championships including a grand slam in 1930. The key point he was making, I think, is that she's achieved more than the great Tiger Woods as an amateur.

Of course there are a couple of question marks around Ko.

Will she lose the passion and desire at some point and, perhaps of most concern, how will she deal with turning professional, when the time comes? Add money and increased scrutiny and expectation into the equation and it could change the outlook.

There's also a school of thought, and this was again raised by an American journalist in Christchurch this week, that Ko is so cool, calm and fearless because she hasn't tasted defeat enough. She rarely fails. How will she cope with a loss of form or in confidence when playing week in week out at the very top level?

Name a professional golfer who hasn't had to deal with both of those at some point. And not all of them do it successfully.

For now, though, we should just enjoy watching and following Ko's progress. She's super serious on the course but rather engaging off it, and always stops to sign autographs, many for people four and five times her age.

Her skill and incredible consistency mean she is a chance to contend in every tournament she plays this year, whether it be the New Zealand amateur championship or the US Open.

There aren't many golfers in the world you can say that about, and certainly no 15-year-olds.

- Stuff

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