New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko has disclosed the most open secret in golf – her decision to join the paid ranks – and closed the book on a glittering amateur career that saw her win four professional titles and rise to No 4 in the world.
The 16-year-old, who is still studying for end-of-year school exams, chose to make the announcement via social media, issuing a tweet that directed her followers to a YouTube clip in which she appears with New Zealand rugby player Israel Dagg.
“Made a monumental decision today with a little help from my @AllBlacks friend @Izzy_Dagg #LOVEGolf,” Ko tweeted. All Blacks back Dagg spends the entire video, that lasts almost five minutes, asking Ko when she would make the decision to turn professional as they played a round at a course near her home on Auckland’s North Shore.
“When are you going pro? I want to be the first one to know,” Dagg asks, only for Ko to tell him she still had things to work on with her game. Ko finally confirms the decision after making a long putt to ‘beat’ Dagg in their round. “Okay I’ll do it, turn pro,” Ko says. “Right now, right this second. Definitely.”
Ko’s decision had been expected after she finished second at the Evian Championship, the fifth major of the year in women’s golf, last month. Her mother, Tina, then confirmed as much earlier this month when she said they had asked the LPGA for an exemption for her Seoul-born daughter to become a member. The LPGA restricts the number of tournaments for players under the age of 18.
Ko was the youngest player to win a professional tournamentwhen she clinched the New South Wales Open in Sydney aged 14. She has won three other professional tournaments since, including the defence of her Canadian Open title in August.
If she’d been professional, Ko would already have won more than $1 million in prize money.
Despite her protestations that turning pro could wait and she still wanted to attend Stanford University like her idol Michelle Wie, coach Guy Wilson had said it was only a matter of time.
Wilson began coaching Ko at six, when they were initially restricted by language difficulties as she had not yet been immersed in New Zealand schooling. Ko had up to four lessons a week with Wilson, working from about 50 metres away from the green because anything else would have been too daunting, and he was amazed at the youngster’s focus, motivation and ability to keep working at her game.
The moment he felt she would “make it” was when she made the cut at the New Zealand Open as a 12-year-old. “She was the youngest person to make the cut and. . . she finished seventh,” Wilson said. “That was the pinnacle of golf – to play your national open against a professional field, to make the cut and finish as the best Kiwi by miles. It just showed to me that this kid could be pretty freakish.
“The only thing that could limit us then was getting Lydia to other events because of the finances and invitations, because no-one knew who she was.”
Wilson added that he and Ko had spent a lot of time this year working on conditioning in order to attack more greens and, while her first Canadian Open victory in 2012 propelled her to prominence, people were still amazed at the level of her game.
“I think her age does not match her ability,” Wilson said, while adding that she could also be a “typical teenager” in her mannerisms and attitude.That has been the way she has been since she was seven. That’s why people are astounded she’s only [a teenager]..”