If what Lydia Ko is doing in women’s professional golf had an equivalent story in the men’s game, the headlines would be deafening. “Couldn’t happen,” I hear many say. Perhaps, perhaps not. Notwithstanding, what is surprising about golf media treatment of Ko’s achievements is the absolute understated reaction to what is a phenomena – by any criteria.
The standard of golf in the lady’s professional game of today has never been stronger. One only has to look at the eclectic nature of the participants to know that the LPGA is, like the men’s game, a world-wide affair. And it is competitive, very competitive.
Lydia Ko with the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Trophy. (AP Photo)
Unlike many other individual sports, champion golfers find it very hard to repeat win after win. Why? Because unlike match-play events where you go one-on-one, such as in tennis, a golfer needs to beat 140-odd competitors each time. This is extremely hard to do; as Tiger, even in his prime, would attest.
Given this and the competitive nature of today’s LPGA, Lydia Ko’s latest feat warrants explanation. The Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship had all the top names there except defending champion Inbee Park, who elected to play in her native South Korea.
Ko entered the final round with a four-shot lead over her closest challengers. After birdieing four of the first six holes, her victory wasn’t in doubt; it was just a matter of what the winning margin would be. In the end she won by nine strokes (largest winning margin this year) after completing a seven-under par 65 for a 72-hole total of 20-under par 268.
With this win, Ko retakes the world number one ranking she lost to Inbee Park some four months back. The win also marks her 10th career LPGA victory, which in itself is a milestone. She becomes the youngest, male or female, to reach ten wins; aged 18 years, 6 months. She breaks Nancy Lopez’s LPGA record by three-plus years. The youngest male to record ten wins was Horton Smith (21 years 7 months). Other notables and their age upon achieving ten wins are:
- Tiger Woods: 23 years, 6 months
- Jack Nicklaus: 24 years 3 months
- Rory McIlroy: 25 years 11 months
- Annika Sorenstam: 26 years 7 months
She also holds the record of youngest to win a major, a feat that accompanied her win in last month’s Evian Championship.
What her ten LPGA Tour wins don’t recognise are four European Tour wins plus two from the ALPG and LPGA of Korea.
Consider this; at 14, she became the youngest golfer, male or female, to win a professional tournament; the Samsung Women’s NSW Open in Australia, in January 2012. Later that summer, aged 15, Ko became the second-youngest winner of the US Women’s Amateur just prior to breaking Lexi Thompson’s record as the youngest winner in LPGA history with victory in the 2012 Canadian Open. Against the best the LPGA had to offer, Ko, still an amateur, defended her title a year later. At age 17, by then a pro, she won the 2014 CME Group Tour Championship (the women’s FedEx equivalent); to win the biggest pay-day in women’s golf history and in so doing became the youngest world number one. Seven months later she became the youngest major winner, aged 18 years four months.
In her last five starts the Korean-born Kiwi has won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open and the Evian Championship in France, tied for second in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, tied fourth in the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship and won in Taiwan – her fifth win of the year.
On waking up on the morning of her final round her first thought was not golf, but rugby. She tweeted, “First thing I did waking up on Sunday morning was checking the results from RSA vs NZ match! Sooooo excited for the finals! Go @AllBlacks.” As anyone close to Lyds will confirm, she is as rounded as she is grounded.
Asked about the possibility of negative comments from Inbee Park, in their ongoing battle for the number-one spot, Ko responded, “I think she is nicer than me, first of all, and she’s never going to give me any c**p or talk behind my back.” Perhaps an insight into why she is so readily accepted by her peers.
Lydia Ko is a one-woman show who is not about to stop anytime soon. There is no player, of either gender, whose current golf is as hot. Oh, and did I mention she is still a teenager and will remain so for another 18 months? Incredible.
The legend grows.