Golf: Ko gives pro world a taste of her talent

By David Leggat

Lydia Ko beat a strong field to win the Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver. Photo / AP
Lydia Ko beat a strong field to win the Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver. Photo / AP

When a 7-year-old was seen skipping down the fairways during the 2005 New Zealand women's amateur championship at Titirangi, it prompted a deluge of criticism over why she and the other pre-teens in the field were not atschool.

Lydia Ko, the young skipper, has come a long way from those days. Now the golf world is truly at the 15-year-old's feet, after she followed her US Open amateur victory in Cleveland two weeks ago with the Canadian Open in Vancouver yesterday, against a field including 48 of the top 50 money earners this year.

Events of late have merely reinforced the long-held view of her coach, Guy Wilson of the North Shore's Institute of Golf, that world No1 status is beckoning.

"It's difficult to get a gauge of someone at that age, but I guess now there's a benchmark there," Wilson told the Herald yesterday.

Two events resulting from yesterday's three-shot win at the Vancouver Golf Club point to Ko's rapidly rising standing in the women's game.

The golf Hall of Fame in Florida asked for a memento to exhibit alongside items from some of the game's greats. Ko has donated the glove she wore in the Open, along with her golf bag.

"I've always wanted to visit there," Ko said of the Hall of Fame. "But to have something that's mine up there is amazing.

"And you know it doesn't come down or anything ... It'll always remain there and it will be a good memory."

And Ko made the home page of sport's most influential websites, including Sports Illustrated and ESPN. Fame is fast catching up with her.

In one giant leap - for herself and, by extension, the women's game in New Zealand - golf's best amateur has moved from No145 to No45 on the world rankings.

Going into the final round in Vancouver, Ko held a one-shot lead over four players. Pressure? Not much sign of it as she peeled off four successive birdies on a difficult back nine, and even a bogey on the 72nd hole could not diminish the scale of her achievement.

Her five-under 67 gave her a four-round score of 275. Korean Inbee Park's 69 gave her second on 278 - and the US$300,000 ($370,305) winner's cheque because as an amateur Ko was not eligible.

Which begs the question: will Ko look to move into the pro ranks younger than 18, the age at which players are eligible for a full US LPGA Tour card?

Not according to Ko, a Year 11 student at Pinehurst School at Albany, or Wilson.

"I don't think any of my plans will change," Ko said. "I'll still remain amateur, finish high school and then go to college in the United States.

"I mean this is a great win, but I don't think this will affect me changing the roots to my career."

Wilson pointed out that Ko might not even have been in the Canadian Open if she was professional. Being a top-class amateur opens doors.

"She won't be pressured into doing something she may later regret," Wilson said. "Two more years as an amateur are going to make her stronger when she does turn pro."

Wilson has been a big part of Ko's golf life. He vividly recalls the day the 5-year-old came into the pro shop at Pupuke with her mother, Tina.

Could he help her with her golf?

"Neither of them could really speak English but they said they wanted her to be taught, three times a week. I said, 'Okay, this could be interesting'," Wilson said.

"People ask me, 'Are you Korean or Kiwi?" Ko told the Herald last year. "I know more about New Zealand than I remember about Korea.

"That doesn't mean I want to leave Korea behind ... [but] I will always represent New Zealand when I am playing around the world."

Titles came from an early age, including becoming the youngest winner of the New Zealand amateur championship last year, at 14.

When she won the New South Wales Open last January she was the youngest player to win a professional tour event - and that was after having been the youngest champion in the Australian Amateur.

Ko is off to Korea for a couple of days to catch up with family, then it is the British amateur championship at Royal Liverpool, the Espirito Santo world amateur event in Turkey then home for solid school study ahead of exams at the end of the year.

American world No2 Stacy Lewis gave Ko a dose of encouragement late in the round and liked what shesaw.

"I was most impressed with her demeanour," said Lewis. "I mean you would have never known that it was the final round of an LPGA event. She played like she had been therebefore."

Ko munched cherry tomatoes as she negotiated the last nine holes.

On her mother's suggestion, she wore a red shirt, the final-round colour of choice for Tiger Woods.

"She said, 'You're going to look like Tiger Woods.' [On Saturday] I wore grey/silver and my aunt called and said, 'You look too dark.' So I guess this is bright enough, right?"

Just like her future.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 19 Dec 2014 02:44:02 Processing Time: 427ms