Ko is no flash, all substance in winning Women's Am

Lydia Ko, right, with her mom/caddie, Tina, at No. 16 during the finals at the 112th U. S. Women's Amateur Championship.

CLEVELAND – Lydia Ko’s game isn’t flashy. In fact, for the top-ranked amateur in the world, Ko is quite unassuming.

Solid play left Ko in possession of the trophy on Sunday at the end of a 35-hole U.S. Women’s Amateur final against Jaye Marie Green. Said Green, “She gets up and down from everywhere.” Ko simply didn’t make mistakes at The Country Club, but Green has a point: The difference came around the greens.

It had been a slow, cloudy Cleveland morning until the final match approached the turn for the second time. Ko had just made consecutive birdies at Nos. 6-8 to get to 4 up, but landed in a greenside bunker at the par-3 ninth. Green watched as Ko addressed that shot – a downhill lie, nonetheless – and turned to dad and caddie Donnie just before Ko hit.

“If she gets this up and down,” Green had said. “I will be so impressed.”

Ko did, and it put the pressure back on Green. She suddenly had to par, too, to keep from going 5 down entering the final nine.

By the 17th green, Ko had earned what is arguably the biggest title of her career. Nevermind that she won the New South Wales Women’s Open, a professional event, earlier this year. Still nearly three months shy of her 15th birthday that week, Ko replaced Ryo Ishikawa as the youngest winner of a professional event. The U.S. Women’s Amateur was a different beast, but with shades of familiarity. At 15 years, 3 months and 19 days old, she becomes the second-youngest winner of this championship. Kimberly Kim, who won as a 14-year-old in 2006, remains the youngest.

“It’s pretty amazing, and this tournament is classified as the top amateur event for me, so it means a lot,” Ko said.

Ko is no stranger to the spotlight. She giggled just once as she took the podium for her post-round speech, but with a snap of the fingers became composed and confident. She’s done this a few times before.

In a tour of the United States that has stretched to six weeks, Ko has managed to take home at least a medal in each USGA event she’s entered. She was the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open, a semifinalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, and carts a beautiful Robert Cox trophy away from The Country Club.

“I haven’t won a tournament in the States before,” Ko said.

From here, Ko’s hectic schedule continues with a start later this month at the Canadian Women’s Open. From there she’ll go to Korea to visit family, to England for the Ricoh Women’s British Open and then to Turkey to play for New Zealand in the World Amateur Team Championship. Despite the pro starts, Ko isn’t in any rush to make golf a true job.

“I want to go to college as well, so turning professional isn’t a priority,” she said. “There are so many things to learn as an amateur.”

Luckily, Ko is on a golf scholarship back home. It means she can get away with missing so much school, but even when Ko does show up to class, it throws her teachers for a loop. They regularly check her absent without a second thought. Doing well academically remains important to Ko if she wants to get into Stanford, known for its rigid academics. It’s been an unwavering goal of Ko’s since she hit the U.S. spotlight a year ago at this championship.

As for Green, the amateur road ends in Cleveland. Green soon will enter LPGA Q-School, and without any regrets. She smiled and sipped a Shirley Temple on Sunday afternoon, downright giddy to have made it to the final match in the national championship.

“It just wasn’t my time to win,” she said. “If it was, I would have.”

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