On eve of pro debut, Ko holds steady

Lydia Ko talks on the eve of her professional debut in LPGA play at the 2013 CME Group Titleholders.

— Lydia Ko was eating hash browns over in players' dining right about the time her pre-tournament press conference was set to start. A member of the LPGA communications staff made a frantic call to check on her whereabouts. The 16-year-old was scheduled to have an 8:30 a.m. interview – her first as a professional – broadcast live on Golf Channel.

Most 16-year-old kids would have been hyped up for a live news conference – nervously fretting about what to say or how they look. Ko walked calmly into a busy media center and sat down in the captain’s chair at the front of the room. Her shirt was logo-less and her hat bore the insignia of New Zealand Golf. There were no major announcements made today. Just here’s Lydia Ko, ready to take her slice of the pie.

“That’s the longest press conference I’ve done,” Ko said when the cameras switched off. She then walked out to the range to do more media, losing her brand new iPhone somewhere along the way. (It was eventually found.)

Not much has changed for Ko the pro, and yet she very well could leave the CME Group Titleholders Championship with a $700,000 paycheck. At the very least she’ll make $3,044, good for 70th in the season-ending, no-cut tournament at Tiburon Golf Club.

“I want to be remembered like Annika or Lorena,” said Ko, when asked about her long-term goals. “They did so much for the LPGA and the women’s game. . . . One of the big things is I want to be known quite well to the spectators for being very nice and very friendly.”

At least one Hall of Famer watching the broadcast live thought Ko got off to a strong start in reaching that career goal.

“Lydia Ko reminds of Nancy Lopez with her sweet nature, calmness, easy to smile, interested in others,” Carol Mann tweeted. “Rare personality in one so young.”

Lydia Ko’s mother, Tina Hyon, said her youngest daughter was born to be happy. Mom said Lydia woke up Wednesday morning like she usually does, singing and dancing.

“I wish I could be like Lydia for just one day,” said Tina.

When asked what it is about Lydia that makes her most proud, Tina said “Her delight.”

The biggest question surrounding the fifth-ranked Ko is whether or not her success as an amateur will be sustained in a pro career. Her two LPGA titles and four pro titles worldwide tell us her game is there. But now she’ll have to manage all the trappings that come along with the job: corporate sponsors, pro-ams, and balancing a much bigger schedule. To navigate those deep waters, Ko will need to choose an agency that’s well-versed in the LPGA landscape. So far she hasn’t made any decisions, ditto for signing with a club manufacturer or any other sponsor.

“A lot of that stuff my mom and dad does,” said Ko, “so they tell me not to concentrate about money, management, sponsors and everything.”

This week she’s carrying a Puma staff bag (without her name) as New Zealand Golf has switched its commercial sponsorship from Srixon to Cobra Puma Golf.

For more than a year, Ko has been asking her mother to get a puppy. Because her older sister and father are allergic to dog hair, and because Lydia and her mother are never home, that wish hasn’t been fulfilled.

As an amateur, Ko and her mother usually set a wager for the week, something Ko can earn if she wins the tournament. Funny enough, she forgot to stipulate a prize before this season’s CN Canadian Women’s Open, which she won.

“Oh my God, I get nothing!” Lydia said to her mother.

Well, at the very least, she got the $5 birdie money her mother pays out for every round.

LPGA veteran Angela Stanford believes that Ko turning pro early was inevitable. But she worries that so many of today’s young players have too many people telling them what to do.

“I think if it was just her in a room, she’d go to school,” said Stanford.

That’s hard to prove. But Stanford’s next statement is gospel: “Now she’s the boss.”

Indeed, Ko will be the one making money. There will be a transition in the Ko family as she goes from being a kid chasing titles to a multi-millionaire playing full-time in an adult world. She’ll still rely heavily on her parents for help (mom travels and dad stays back in New Zealand), but money will change things.

Tina said her daughter doesn’t yet understand the value of money, especially the large sums that will potentially come her way. But she’s not particularly worried about she’ll handle it.

“It’s good for Lydia to have the idea to share,” said Tina. And she does.

Nothing has gone wrong yet in Ko’s world. In 15 starts on the LPGA, she has yet to miss a cut. World No. 1 Inbee Park had early success as a teen and then took a dip before going one of the most incredible runs in tour history.

“If she doesn’t give up, she’s going to play well,” Park said. “If she goes through the tough times well, she’ll have a good career.”

Maybe even a great one.

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