LPGA makes right call in granting Ko membership

Lydia Ko celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th hole to cement her five-stroke victory during the final round of the CN Canadian Women's Open.

Lydia Ko celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th hole to cement her five-stroke victory during the final round of the CN Canadian Women's Open.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made the right call – really the only call – in granting 16-year-old Lydia Ko permission to join the LPGA as a member in 2014.

Ko made the announcement last week via a YouTube video that she had turned pro and petitioned the LPGA earlier this month. Because the LPGA’s minimum age requirement is 18, Ko needed Whan’s approval to become a member at age 16. Ko, a two-time winner on the LPGA, is No. 5 in the Rolex Rankings. She will compete out of Category 7 of the 2014 LPGA Priority List, reserved for players who have won an official LPGA event as a non-member during the previous calendar year.

“We are looking forward to having Lydia as a full-time member for the 2014 season,” Whan said. “It is not often that the LPGA welcomes a rookie who is already a back-to-back LPGA Tour champion.”

Ko’s professional debut will be at next month’s CME Group Titleholders on Nov. 21-24 in Naples, Fla. She is in the midst of preparing for exams back home in New Zealand but participated in a conference call late Monday afternoon.

“I'm actually quite excited to play a couple weeks in a row,” said Ko, who hadn’t had much of a chance to play a fluid schedule as an amateur.

Ko isn’t sure about a full-time caddie for 2014 or how many events she’ll play. She gave nothing away in terms of signing with an agency and said she won’t be making any equipment changes before Naples. She also plans to stay based in New Zealand for now, and eased concerns from New Zealand media about switching alliances to her native South Korea when it comes to the 2016 Olympics.

“I’ve been playing for New Zealand the last couple of years,” she said, “and I haven't made any plans to change it at all.”

As for having more money in her pockets, Ko didn’t offer the slightest hint of how she’d spend it.

“I guess it will be different to get money after a week’s worth of golf,” she said. “But I haven’t really thought about it.”

Stacy Lewis, who played alongside Ko the first time she won in Canada, said via text that Ko is “a great asset” for the LPGA.

“I don’t like seeing kids turn pro at a young age but her play is definitely ready,” Lewis said. “I do hope that she continues her education and eventually goes to college.”

Ko has one more year left of high school; she said she will graduate.

LPGA veteran Karen Stupples said, “You only get a certain shelf-life in this game,” adding that she is happy to see Ko turn pro.

“Make hay while the sun is shining,” said Stupples, echoing a sentiment Laura Davies made last February while playing in New Zealand.

Ko’s consistency throughout the last year leaves no doubt that she’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best on a full-time basis. In her last 14 starts around the world, she has nine top-nine finishes.

For those curious about her mental toughness, consider this: Ko has posted a round in the 60s in 10 of her last 14 final rounds.

“She seems to show no sign of stress at all,” Stupples said.

A veteran in the media room, Ko displays a maturity on and off the course that gives Whan little to worry about. Plus, she already has made friends on tour. A look at the tour’s youth-filled pipeline – Thai sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, Charley Hull – shows Ko is one of several tournament-tested teens.

"She is a very sweet, humble girl and deserves to capitalize on her incredible talent," LPGA player Kris Tamulis said. "At the same time, I hope she continues to enjoy the game and have fun because she is missing out on a lot of life experiences by starting a career at such a young age."

Looking back, Stupples said she wished she had seen more of the world in her last 20-plus years of traveling. Golf has been an all-consuming job for the Englishwoman, and she has missed out on “bits of the world” she probably should’ve taken the time to see.

“Get out and see some things,” Stupples said. “Just to experience what a great life and opportunity it is to play a golf tour.”

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