Ko, two-time winner, enters pros with humor
Lydia Ko plans to retire at age 30. That's right; the 16-year-old kid who played in her first tournament as a professional last November already has an exit strategy. "I've played golf for 11 years," she said. "Twenty-five years, I think, is enough."
This declaration came two days after Ko, the fourth-ranked player in the world, collected her first paycheck of $16,063 at the CME Group Titleholders Championship. She was staying for several days at the Omni Resort at ChampionsGate near Orlando, where she met with potential instructors and scrambled to find outfits for two photo shoots.
PHOTOS: Carefree Lydia Ko
Check out a few images from Golfweek's photo shoot recently with Lydia Ko.
Missing from the four suitcases and golf bag that Ko and her mother brought from New Zealand were five pairs of pants. Ko entered the Omni's lobby wearing her mother's black pants (which looked like capris on Ko), a black jacket, blue boots and a graffiti-style T-shirt, which she got in a U.K. Topshop , that read "I hate everyone."
"I don't hate anyone," Ko later clarified.
The edgy, rebellious look contrasted with what we've grown accustomed to seeing from the young Kiwi, a reminder that she is as young as she is talented. When the Golfweek shoot ended, Ko wanted to hang out in the hotel's arcade room but already was late for her next appointment.
Before Ko made the trek to Naples for Titleholders, she visited the Ely Callaway Performance Center in Carlsbad, Calif., where she met her golf hero, Phil Mickelson. He took Ko to his car and pulled out an autographed flag from his Open Championship victory. Ko, who made her pro debut after having won twice on the LPGA and two other times worldwide as an amateur, competed at Titleholders with that flag stuffed into her bag.
Ko was in the Tiburon clubhouse eating hashbrowns right about the time her first news conference as a pro was scheduled to start. A member of the LPGA communications staff made a frantic call to check on her whereabouts as the 8:30 a.m. interview was set to air live on Golf Channel.
Ko casually walked in moments later and made her way to the captain’s chair at the front of the room. If she was nervous about initiation week, she gave nothing away.
“Sometimes it does get overwhelming,” Ko later conceded over breakfast at the Omni. “If you don’t play good, you’re not going to get that attention. When you don’t get that attention, I get kind of worried. But when you do get it, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’ ”
LPGA Hall of Famer Carol Mann watched Ko face the media and tweeted that the teen reminded her of Nancy Lopez because of a sweet nature, calm attitude and easy smile.
“Rare personality in one so young,” Mann wrote.
Ko’s mother, Tina Hyon, said her youngest daughter was born to be happy, waking up most mornings singing and dancing.
“I wish I could be like Lydia for just one day,” Hyon said.
When asked what it is about Lydia that makes her most proud, Hyon said, “Her delight.”
With her first pro earnings, Ko planned to buy a pricey Canon 5D camera in Taiwan so that she could improve another passion: photography.
Suzann Pettersen still has her first check hanging on the wall of her home.
“I think it was three grand, and to me it was a lot of money,” Pettersen said. “I said to my dad, ‘I don’t think I need any help from you for the next couple months.’ ”
On Dec. 8 in Taiwan, Ko won the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in only her second pro start and earned $150,000. By then, she could’ve bought every camera in the store.
Ko said she isn’t sure what will happen to her earnings going forward. Her mom used to put a carrot – about $1,000 – in front of her every week for winning a professional tournament. She’d also get $5 birdie money after every round.
So far there’s no set “allowance” for 2014, but any talk of money automatically includes the rest of the family.
“It’s good for Lydia to have the idea to share,” Hyon said. And she does.
It’s fitting then that one of Ko’s first sponsorship deals should be with a bank. She inked a three-year deal with the Australian Bank ANZ and is reportedly close to signing with Callaway. Ko’s first bout of controversy came in late December when she parted ways with Guy Wilson, the only golf instructor she has ever known, to begin working with Sean Hogan at the David Leadbetter Academy in ChampionsGate.
Because Wilson is based in New Zealand, Ko explained, and she doesn’t like instructors coming to tournaments, she needed a U.S.-based coach. Risky move for the young rookie.
Inside the ropes, nothing has gone wrong for Ko to this point. In 16 starts on the LPGA, she has yet to miss a cut. Her 2014 LPGA season will begin Jan. 23-26 in the Bahamas, immediately following rookie orientation.
Stacy Lewis, the No. 3 player in the world, thinks that Ko is in for a shock, despite already having won on tour.
“I think she’s going to have a few growing pains just learning how to manage your game from week to week, how to learn every golf course,” Lewis said.
World No. 1 Inbee Park achieved early success as a teen and then dipped before going on one of the most incredible runs in tour history: six victories in 2013, including three major championships.
“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.”
And an even better retirement.