Lydia Ko, Missy Franklin take part in panel, as World No. 1's fame set to rise

Lydia Ko, Missy Franklin take part in panel, as World No. 1's fame set to rise

LPGA Tour

Lydia Ko, Missy Franklin take part in panel, as World No. 1's fame set to rise

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – There aren’t many people on the planet who can relate to Lydia Ko. No teenager has dominated golf like Ko – male or female. And yet, to most outside the golf world, she remains a relative unknown.

Perhaps the Olympics can change that.

On Tuesday at the inaugural ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference, an impressive collection of Olympic stars – Missy Franklin, Lindsey Vonn, Abby Wambach and Kristi Yamaguchi – sat down with some of the LPGA’s finest to talk about their inspired journeys to the top. Soccer’s Julie Foudy, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in her own right, served as host and moderator with Poppie’s Pond as a backdrop.

Franklin won four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympic Games and shared the couch with Ko during a segment titled “Role Models for the Next Generation.”

If only every young athlete could’ve sat in that room and listened to two growing legends talk about their journeys to the top.

They are a smiley pair, Ko and Franklin, who not only talk about the importance of having fun, but actually look the part in the heat of competition.

When asked about dealing with the immense pressure of competing for her country, Franklin pointed to advice learned from Michael Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman.

“There’s two ways to look at expectations,” she said. “You can look at it as pressure, and you can look at it as support. These people really believe that I‘m capable of doing these things and that’s something that empowers me, that’s something that makes me proud.”

When Ko mentioned that she’s studying psychology at Korea University, Franklin gave her a high five and said she’s doing the same at Cal Berkeley.

“We’ve just become best friends,” Ko told the crowd.

After winning on Sunday at the Kia Classic, Ko was slow to come out to Mission Hills the next day because she watched the Disney animated film “Brave.” Franklin backed Ko’s love of Disney films. A reminder that for all their accolades and wise answers, the two college kids remain young at heart.

Franklin said after the London Games she learned that she could no longer go to the grocery store in her pajamas. She had become a household name, a primetime favorite for millions of Americans.

“It was so weird and it still is to me that people recognize me just walking down the street,” said Franklin, “or by signing a piece of paper I can make a child happy. To me, that’s just so amazing, and there is so much power and responsibility in that.”

Top American Lexi Thompson, ranked No. 3 in the world, isn’t recognized off the golf course unless she’s wearing golf clothes.

“Sometimes I wish people would recognize me a little bit more,” said Thompson, “but at the same time I do love my freedom.”

Ko, an 11-time winner on the LPGA and history-making machine, deserves more fame.

Franklin agrees.

“There’s so much inspiration there,” Franklin said of Ko’s young career. “That’s why I think being on an Olympic stage is so wonderful for golfers, for Lydia … to get them in that spotlight.”

Annika Sorenstam’s worldwide recognition kicked into high gear when she played alongside the men at Colonial in 2003. It was the brightest spotlight she’d ever faced, and she considers it to be a highlight of her career.

At the ANA conference, Sorenstam shared the couch with Vonn, an Olympic skiing star. Sorenstam told the audience that a PGA Tour player at Colonial said to her, “Let me teach you how to hit a slice.”

Foudy asked Sorenstam to name names, but she wouldn’t divulge.

The Swede did share a quiet moment she had with Aaron Barber, one of her playing partners that day, on the way to the tee. Barber put his hand around Sorenstam and said “Let’s do this together.”

The memory still gives her goosebumps.

“Standing on the tee, people had put some money on — Is she going to kill somebody on the left? Or is she going to kill somebody on the right?

“I wasn’t so concerned with where my ball was going to go … I was more concerned if I could keep the ball on the tee, I was shaking so much. How I got off the tee I don’t know.”

Sorenstam looks back on that life-changing moment in her career and says it wasn’t about men and women. It was more about a golfer trying to be better, and reach her full potential.

Franklin and Ko have yet to even reach the prime of their careers. While Ko won’t be competing alongside the men in Rio, a gold medal would widen the reach of her brand and influence.

Foudy asked Franklin, the grizzled veteran of the two, to give Ko advice on what not to do when under the early spotlight.

“Does she honestly look like she needs any advice?” Franklin asked.

And then she gave an answer that captured the attention of everyone in the room. An answer that sounded like something Ko might say in a few year’s time.

“Honestly, I think that’s kind of one of the best parts about this journey is that it’s yours. You make the mistakes that you’re supposed to make, and you have the success that you’re suppose to have,” Franklin said. “That’s how you develop into the woman you’re going to become, the golfer that you’re going to become.

People ask me a lot what advice I would give my younger self. I wouldn’t give myself any advice. I went on the exact journey that I was supposed to go on, and I learned things the exact way that I was supposed to learn them.

I’m so grateful for that.”

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