Lydia Ko, 16, ready to put on a show at U.S. Women's Open
During the most recent women's major golf championship, the Wegmans LPGA, Lydia Ko was walking up a fairway, on her way to winning another low amateur trophy. She was talking with the caddie of Michelle Wie, and out came a statement that made Wie stop in her tracks and question her own hearing.
She could have sworn she heard Ko say, "Yeah, I'm getting old.''
Wie later said, "I looked back at her and was like, 'Wwwhattt?' ''
There is no doubt that Ko, who is among the players to watch in the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton starting Thursday, has an uncanny ability to surprise people. She has accomplished things on a golf course that no one else ever has. The one thing she absolutely is not, though, is old.
The Korean-born New Zealand resident still is only 16. And it was not all that long ago that she was the youngest golfer, male or female, to win a professional event when she took the New South Wales Open on the Australian Tour at 14. Last year, at 15, she became the youngest to win on the LPGA Tour, capturing the CN Canadian Women's Open after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur.
She has since beaten the pros at the New Zealand Women's Open, giving her three professional titles before she earned her driver's license.
Yes, she still is a kid. For the fun of it, she has boxing glove head covers (her surname is shorthand for knockout). Unable to accept the $300,000 first prize for the Canadian Open, she lobbied her mom for a dog instead.
Ko said she did make the "old'' remark to Wie's caddie, but it was only because the two have played together for a few years -- Ko idolizes Wie -- and it seems as if she has grown up walking alongside the caddie.
It is clear that Ko is a walking, talking Exhibit A for the case that women's golf is getting anything but old. The field this week also includes 14-year-old Nelly Korda.
Karrie Webb, a seven-time major winner who also is in the field this week, said, "I think they have grown up with the best technology. When I grew up, we still had wooden woods. Two, coaching is so much better now. And three, girls are training as athletes for golf, and I never trained as an athlete as a kid. I just went and beat balls all afternoon after school. So there is a more sophisticated training system in place for a lot of the girls.''
Ko's parents moved from South Korea when they saw she had golf potential, going to a place that would afford more playing opportunity. She has had an accelerated schedule ever since.
What really makes it all work, though, for Ko is that her demeanor and personality have remained remarkably low-key. She is consistent and unruffled, Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said, always able to hit fairways and greens.
"Everybody thinks I'm happy and all relaxed on the course,'' Ko said, "but I'm a normal human being and I do get nervous and also sometimes angry.''
Still, it is all served with a full plate of humility. Soon after she made history and international headlines by being the youngest to win a pro event, she was playing a practice round with Morgan Pressel. Instead of having an attitude, Ko reached into her bag, pulled out a golf ball and meekly asked Pressel for an autograph.
"So,'' Pressel said, "I got out a ball and asked her to sign it. I still have it on my dresser at home and one day I can sell that for a lot of money.''