Baldry: How much longer can Ko stay amateur?
Lydia Ko must get tired of hearing the same questions. But when a 16-year-old leaves more than $1 million on the table for the sake of staying amateur, the obvious question must be asked: How long can that last?
The main difference between Ko, the youngest player to win two LPGA titles, and most LPGA players is that she’s not getting paid. Ko won the recent CN Canadian Women’s Open in her 10th event of the LPGA season. The tour has only had 19 tournaments so far. Ko doesn’t compete against other girls her age. She plays a worldwide professional schedule that includes all the majors. Next up: The Evian Championship on Sept. 12-15 in Evian-les-Bains, France.
Ko would’ve won $600,000 for her victories in Canada during the past two years. When asked if she cared about forsaking that money to keep the little asterisk beside her name, Ko said: “I don't care. I don't care. I can say that a couple times more, if you want.”
That might be true, but considering that neither of Ko’s parents works, one can’t help but wonder how much longer the family can hold out. Ko’s world tours are largely funded by David Levene, an elderly businessman in New Zealand whose six-figure donations are funneled through a national program.
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With Ko’s two victories and the precedent set by Lexi Thompson – she won at age 16 and was waived through LPGA Q-School – it would seem commissioner Mike Whan would have little choice but to accept Ko’s petition to join the tour before age 18, should she file. The Kiwi turns 17 on April 24.
Ko’s five-shot romp in Edmonton was capped by a closing 64, the day’s lowest round by three strokes. Suzann Pettersen played in the last group with Ko and posted a 2-over 72.
“Lydia pretty much whipped all of us today! Congrats,” Pettersen tweeted after the round.
Caroline Hedwall, the heroine of last week’s Solheim Cup team for Europe with a 5-0 performance, rounded out that final threesome.
“Lydia just went off,” Hedwall said. “I mean, she was unbelievable today.”
Ko, winner of four professional titles, is as cool of a customer as they come on Sundays. Players twice her age have more trouble steadying the nerves and maintaining such great rhythm. In fact, she’s the first player to defend a title on the LPGA since Yani Tseng won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2010 and ’11.
In the last two years, Ko has played a total of 14 LPGA events and won twice. Her worst finish came at St. Andrews earlier this month, when she tied for 42nd to share low-amateur honor. She has four top-10 finishes in addition to her two victories and is seventh in the Rolex Rankings.
As for turning pro, Ko referred to her parents as “the boss,” saying they’ll help her make the decision as well as the people of New Zealand Golf. She said earlier in the week that college golf is no longer an option, though she’d still like to study.
“I think as I'm only 16 still, it's quite hard to make huge decisions,” she said. “When I turn pro, it's like a job. Money is all about it and everything like that, every shot counts.”
It’s hard to say how playing for pay will change Ko. She’s so fearless that it seems as if nothing can stop her success. The accomplishments of an amateur in a professional world bring a certain amount of purity to what she’s doing. But there will come a day when her pockets are lined with money and she’s no longer a dream teen.
By then she’ll rule the world of women's golf.