Lydia Ko: Life of a professional golfer
Cool, calm and fabulous beyond her tender years. Women’s world No.1 Lydia Ko is not only one of the most extraordinary talents on planet golf but perhaps the game’s finest role model.
You were born in 1997, the year Tiger won his first major championship – and your achievements eclipse even those of golf’s most famous protege. How much are you aware of the comparisons that have been made?
Everyone in golf knows Tiger, everyone in the industry knows Tiger. Everyone outside the industry knows Tiger! He has been the biggest influence on the game probably ever. But coming from Asia, my hero as a young girl was Se Ri Pak.
My father took me to see her at a tournament in Korea when I was 6. I thought it was the most amazing thing, the way she made the ball fly. She was one of the first Koreans to be on the tour, for her to succeed, to win tournaments and win majors.
She brought a lot of energy back to Korea. So did K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang. I remember him beating Tiger. That’s where I came from, that type of background. Of the top players today I’ve always looked up to Phil Mickelson, also, and Michelle [Wie].
Have you played any golf with Phil or any other top PGA Tour stars?
No, not really. I was at Callaway and they asked me who was my favourite player and I told them it was Phil. So they called him up – he lives near the Callaway headquarters in San Diego, and he drove out to meet me, in shorts, all relaxed. This was the year after he won the Open at Muirfield and he a brought a signed Open flag for me, he was just cool.
When you’re in the middle of a low round, as you were on the final day at Evian, where you shot a 63, how’s your thought process working?
I feel like at that time I just focus 100% on my own game. That was the key for me that day. Playing with Lexi [Thompson], she just made birdie after birdie early in the round, and I couldn’t afford to spend energy thinking about what she was doing. The big thing for me that day was to focus on what I am doing.
Sometimes you see what another player does and it can affect you – you see a player hole a 50-footer, you miss a 6-foot- er and you walk to the next tee thinking about it. You cannot afford to spend that sort of emotional energy. It has to be channelled into you.
What do you regard as the strengths of your game?
I think iron shots, going for the pin, giving myself good opportunities. And that’s all the irons, I don’t have a favourite. The goal last year was to focus on improving my greens in regulation percentages.
I think I ended up coming second, so I achieved that. It’s all about giving yourself opportunities. I know I can hole putts.
Since winning at Evian, do you ever stop and think, “Hey, look at me, I’m world No.1”?
I don’t really think about it unless I’m at a prize-giving or someone makes a big deal of it. Otherwise, I’m just out there playing with all the girls, we don’t care about records, who is the youngest, what the rankings are or whatever. But every now and again, when you get announced on the tee, I go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me, this is cool!’
When you’re surrounded by older people – as you have been since you started competing in professional events at 14– you have to grow up quickly.
If you think about it, the older players and all of the other people in the game are not going to come to my level. I have to go to theirs. That’s the way I see it. If I’m talking to someone like Julie Inkster, she’s not going to behave like an 18 year-old, I have to try to raise myself to her level. But I have a great group of friends on tour who keep me sensible.
You know, in Korea it’s called an unni, it’s what a girl calls an older girl who is special to her. Someone you look up to and respect. Danielle Kang is probably my best unni, my big sister, then there’s Jane Park, Christina Kim, Michelle. They are like older sisters. And Jessica Korda, she’s my little bottle-of-a-sweetheart.