Martin Dempster: Kiwi Ko is way beyond compare

Lydia Ko poses with the NZ Open trophy after triumphing on home soil in Christchurch. Picture: Getty

Lydia Ko poses with the NZ Open trophy after triumphing on home soil in Christchurch. Picture: Getty

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SPEAKING from experience – my daughters are 19 and 17 – teenage girls can be challenging individuals. It’s a phase, apparently, when they don’t really listen to advice, seeming hell bent all the time on learning for themselves – often the hard way – about life’s rich tapestry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of them both. It also doesn’t bother me in the slightest that I don’t have a boy in the family, even though I can still hear a tinge of disappointment in the voice of Ian Macniven, the former Edinburgh Evening News golf correspondent and a man’s man if there was ever one, when informing him of our two births.

It’s as the father of a 17-year-old girl that I, along with many others no doubt, find it quite astonishing to watch what Lydia Ko is achieving in the Royal & Ancient game, making her appearance on Scottish soil later this year in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry every bit as exciting as the prospect of Rory McIlroy defending the Open Championship at St Andrews.

The South Korean-born New Zealander is the youngest player of either gender to be world No 1, beating Tiger Woods by four years. In recording back-to-back wins in the Australian Women’s Open and NZ Ladies’ Open, she has just taken her tally of victories in professional events into double figures – another record and one achieved with two years to spare.

To put the latter into some perspective, Ko has now recorded more wins before turning 18 – her birthday isn’t until 24 April – than Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, two of golf’s best-known former teenage prodigies, combined.

Ko’s successes have been achieved worldwide, making her feats so far all the more remarkable. “Wow, @Lko424 won again!” wrote Keegan Bradley, the 2011 US PGA champion on Twitter of Ko’s latest victory on home soil, where her middle round in a 54-hole event was a course-record 11-under-par 61 – an effort that had started with a bogey at Clearwater.

With each passing week, Ko’s band of admirers is growing. Also commenting on social media, former world No 1 Annika Sorenstam used “impressive” as her hashtag to describe those back-to-back triumphs by the game’s hottest talent. Karrie Webb, Australia’s most successful female professional golfer, is another huge fan. “I keep saying that we’re never going to see another young player this ready at this age and then Lydia Ko comes along and sets the bar even higher for young players,” she said. “At any age, it is an outstanding achievement to be No 1 in the world, but to do it at 17 is incredible.”

Ko bypassed the LPGA’s event in Thailand, where a much bigger pot was up for grabs, to play in her national Open. Well done to the New Zealand sporting public for recognising that, with a crowd estimated to be close to 18,000 (it included the country’s prime minister, John Key) turning up on the last day to see golf’s new superstar make a successful defence of the title.

Like the All Blacks, she’s a true national treasure and not just for the way she plays the game. Ko comes across exactly how you want a world No 1 to, especially one that can influence his or her sport in a huge way over the next decade or so.

“The coolest part of being in that position is that somewhere you go there are juniors walking and they say, ‘you’re my favourite player’ or ‘you’re my role model’,” she admitted last week. “That’s the best thing, for I’m still under 18 and still a junior. For another girl or boy to say you’re my role model kind of makes me feel special and like I need to work harder so I become that role model they look up to. Just to be able to inspire is the coolest thing.”

Without knowing it, Ko could be just about to inspire the next generation of Scottish female golfers. Her eye-catching exploits, after all, have coincided with the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association launching ‘Girls Golf’, a new free programme that will be rolled out at six locations around the country next month with the emphasis on making the game fun for potential newcomers.

It’s certainly fun watching Ko break record after record at the moment. The game has been littered with youngsters showing promise at an early age only to hit the buffers pretty quickly. This one, however, looks set to dominate the sport the way Sorenstam did.

Walker Cup winner Sullivan is starting to click

AS GREAT Britain & Ireland celebrated beating a star-studded United States side in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, an exciting future looked to be on the cards for a young Englishman.

Sure enough, within a matter of weeks Tom Lewis had made his mark in the professional ranks when winning the Portugal Masters in only his third European Tour start, a success that helped him become the Rookie of the Year.

Most people would struggle, no doubt, to name the other English players in the side that upset the odds in the Granite City, but one of them is fast emerging as one of the brightest new talents in European golf. Over the past few weeks, Andy Sullivan has recorded two victories in South Africa, the second one in the Joburg Open on Sunday coming with the added bonus of a spot in this summer’s Open Championship at St Andrews.

It’s taken until he’s 28 for Sullivan to make the breakthrough at the top level, which will provide a source of encouragement for the younger members of that team at Royal Aberdeen still trying to make headway in the paid ranks.

Coached by Jamie Gough – brother of former Rangers and Scotland defender Richard – Sullivan plays the game in a way that is enjoyable to watch. With a smile on his face, too, and that’s not something we see often enough in the sport these days. Golf could do with a few characters and Sullivan fits that bill. In Dubai this year, he was paired with Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer in the opening two rounds and revelled in that experience even though you could tell he was pinching himself.

The man that won a trip to space for a hole in one last year in the KLM Open is in orbit right now and rightly so.

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