U.S. Women's Amateur champ Ko ahead of her time

Lydia Ko poses with The Robert Cox Trophy after defeating Jaye Marie Green 3&1 during the finals at the 112th U. S. Women's Amateur Championship at The Country Club in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND -– Lydia Ko’s mother forgot to give her daughter a driver on the second tee box earlier in the week. Tina Ko, who was taking a shortcut, eventually realized the blunder and walked back to the tee. Lydia gave a quick bow to her mother as a sign of respect and the two shared a laugh. Tina Ko doesn’t play golf, she’s just mom.

“I’ll never be the boss,” Lydia said with a slight hint of regret. Or perhaps that was sarcasm.

Maybe it’s the New Zealand accent. Maybe it’s the deliberate way Ko speaks, rarely fumbling for words. Maybe it’s the reading glasses. Whatever the case, Ko doesn’t sound 15 years old. She seems like such an old soul one just assumes she’ll turn professional around the time she learns to drive.

Not so fast, Ko said. The 112th U.S. Women’s Amateur champion wants to go to college. Her “role models” are Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson (a subtle reminder that she’s 15), but she doesn’t want to follow their career paths. Ko wants to play college golf.

“There are so many people in New Zealand that go to college overseas,” Ko said, “and I think that kind of inspired me.”

Last year Ko visited Stanford, but the academic regimen might prove too tough. She’s rethinking her options. Ko misses so much school in New Zealand that even when she’s in class the teacher sometimes marks her absent out of habit.

Ko picked up the Robert Cox Trophy at the event’s closing ceremony and held it up for the crowd to see like she’d already done this routine a thousand times. She won a professional event in Australia earlier this year at age 14. She practices up to 40 hours per week at the Institute of Golf and is on a golf scholarship at the Pinehurst School. She maintains a global schedule that makes her the equivalent of a mini pro.

The Korean-born Ko moved with her family to New Zealand at age 5. She gets teased back home when she returns from her adventures abroad pronouncing “water” like an American.

Even if Ko does go to college (which would be surprising), she isn’t likely to last four years. Of the U.S. Women’s Amateur champions in the last 10 years, only two graduated from college: Amanda Blumenherst (2008) and Virada Nirapathpongporn (2003).

Kids grow up fast these days. They’re more technically trained, driven and singularly focused on becoming a professional. Their entire lives are centered around making it big.

Ko sat at ease in the media room with a gold medal draped around her neck. It will be a long time before she can legally take a sip of the victory champagne that was passed around The Country Club. But they’ll be toasting her for years to come.

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