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Great Expectations: Teen queen Ko looks to learn from the best

Lydia Ko made her LPGA debut as a pro at January's season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, where she played with World No. 3 Stacy Lewis (pictured), who has said Ko has turned the ‘Big Three’ of women’s golf into the ‘Big Four’. Photos: AFP.

Lydia Ko, 16, made her LPGA debut as a pro at January’s season-opener in the Bahamas, where she played with World No. 3 Stacy Lewis (pictured), who has said Ko has turned the ‘Big Three’ of women’s golf into the ‘Big Four’. Photos: AFP.

As World No. 4 LYDIA KO embarks on her rookie LPGA season, the 16-year-old Korea-born Kiwi will compete in three events in Asia-Pacific in February, culminating in her debut at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.


What have you heard about the HSBC Women’s Champions and what’s your experience of playing in Singapore?

I’m just really excited. I heard that it’s a nice tournament and it will be nice to go over to Asia as obviously most of the LPGA tournaments are in the States. I haven’t played that many tournaments in Asia, but I really enjoyed my time in Singapore the last time I was there. I’ve only played there once, for the [2012] Queen Sirikit Cup, and the course was really nice.


I do remember that it was really, really hot, so I will have to manage my body and not get overly tired, especially after coming from events in Australia and Thailand. It’ll be three weeks in a row, so body management is important. But I’m really excited to play the tournament as I haven’t played there before and it should be fun.


Stacy Lewis says rather than just the ‘Big Three’ – Park In-bee, Suzann Pettersen and Lewis – you have now made it the ‘Big Four’. As World No. 4 since December, how do you feel about that?

It’s quite a big honour for me that she would say something like that. I look up to the top three women players and it would be great to be part of the ‘Big Four’, but I’ve still got a lot to learn. I just have to play my own game and concentrate on what I’ve got to do.


What goals have you set for yourself for 2014?

It’ll be my rookie year on the LPGA Tour, so it’ll be a year with a learning curve. I’ll be learning to play more tournaments in a row, in a stretch, and being away more from home. I think one of the big things is handling the schedule and balancing things out. It would be great to perform well, but one of my main goals is just to have fun. I can’t play great all the time, anyway, so I just want to enjoy it.


Your amazing results in the past two years have brought you a lot of exposure and attention. Do you feel pressure, either in the build-up to tournaments or when you’re on the course?

I don’t think it’s pressure because somebody else thinks I need to play well. I think it’s more self-pressure. I’m learning more and more about myself and my game. The more I play, the more I notice that not every round is going to go the way you think.


It’s great if you shoot five-under or under-par, but there are always going to be rounds where you thought you’d played well, but not as great as you thought. I think the expectations and pressure is quite big, but I’m learning to ignore that and play my own game.


Ko successfully defended her Canadian Women’s Open title last August, her second LPGA win and one of four pro events she won before giving up her amateur status on October 23, 2013.

Ko successfully defended her Canadian Women’s Open title last August, her second LPGA win and one of four pro events she won before giving up her amateur status on October 23, 2013.

Some people even think you could emulate Park In-bee, who won the first three majors in a row last year. Do you think you’re capable of doing that?

I’m not sure. What In-bee did last season, that was pretty amazing. Three majors in a row is really hard to do. Winning three tournaments in a row or one tournament is actually hard enough. Her season last year was pretty incredible. It would be great to have a hot start, but you never know what’s really going to happen.


As your family is from Korea, what kind of connection do you have with the other Korean players on the LPGA?

I speak Korean to most of the other Korean players out there. To some of them I speak English, but most of the time I speak Korean.


Have people told you what family traits you inherited from your parents?

Not really. Well, people say that when I have fun and try to enjoy myself, I’m kind of like my Dad. But nobody says, like, ‘Yup, this is from your Mum’s side.’


What do you think are the main ingredients in your success?

I don’t really know. A lot of people have asked me that question, like what’s the secret behind it. I’m not really sure. I guess things came really fast the last year or so and I’ve just been really enjoying it.


The support network around me has been really strong, with my Mum always travelling with me and my Dad training with me when I’m at home. I’m just really thankful for that.


How have your parents been involved in your growth as a golfer?

Neither of my parents actually played golf before I started, so we needed a coach to get all the basics done on the swing and learn about the game. I think it was actually quite a good thing that we had a coach from the start.


My Mum is always travelling with me. She’s the cook, she’s the driver and she does pretty much everything apart from play golf. She’s another pair of eyes when I’m out there. She knows my swing really well and takes videos so we can check it again. I guess she’s kind of like a secondary coach. With my Dad, he helps me train when I’m back at home. He sets out all the balls and it takes up the whole day.


As well as the LPGA, which has a lot of events in Asia, can we expect to see you competing on any other Tours over here?

I’m not really sure at the moment. For decision making and scheduling, I’ve got my parents and IMG will definitely play a part in that, in helping me.


At the end of the day, I don’t really want to overdo it and get really tired at the end of the year. It’s more about balancing it out through the year. I want to play as many as I can, but just not overdoing it.


Ultimately, do you make the decisions on which tournaments to play?

They give me a lot of support and they’re there to help me. I will take in what they say, but I’m still 16, so I always need someone.


There was a lot of speculation about if or when you would turn pro before the announcement in October. When, in your mind, did you finally make that decision?

It was after the Evian Championship [in France in September] and when I finally got home. It was after that long stretch of tournaments and coming home for a little break. We looked back on what the year was like. We thought it was a good time to do it.


There was a lot of pressure on you to turn pro a little earlier. How did you resist that?

Some people said, ‘You should turn pro now,’ and some people said, ‘You should wait until you’re 18.’ Everyone’s opinion is different and I tried to not take all that in at once. At the end of the day, I tried to do what’s best for me and my situation. It was good having my parents there to help me and support me.


Any second thoughts about whether you made the right choice?

No, I’ve really enjoyed it. When I did announce that I was turning pro, I wasn’t playing tournaments but taking exams and was at school. It kind of got my mind off golf and all the media, so it was actually quite good timing.


You’ve been compared to Michelle Wie, who turned pro shortly before her 16th birthday. How do you feel about the comparisons?

I look up to her. I think she’s a great player and person. A lot of people have been comparing her to me, but every player is different and there’s always going to be ups and downs. At the end of the day, everybody’s different and I just have to concentrate on my game.


You recently announced your partnership with Callaway. Can you talk about that and meeting Phil Mickelson?

I did meet Phil at the Callaway Fitting Centre and that was really cool because he has been one of my favourite male golfers and it was actually quite cool to see him in person. Just after I turned pro, I used the X2 Hot driver and Odyssey putter for my next couple of tournaments, like in Naples and Taiwan (which she won).


I’ve using the Apex irons and I really like them. People worry about changing their clubs, but I feel comfortable using them. It’s about getting more used to them, but they feel really comfortable and that’s what it needs to be.


What was it like moving from Korea to New Zealand when you were six?

It was quite cool. A lot of people, after they go to New Zealand, they think it’s a very relaxed and a very calm place. I loved living in New Zealand and I still love living there now. I feel really relaxed and feel really ‘home, home’ when I’m there.


When you turned pro, you appeared in a fun video with New Zealand rugby player Israel Dagg. How did that come about?

We are both ambassadors for the Love Golf campaign, to do with the New Zealand golf club membership. Around a similar time as we were doing a promo, I decided to turn pro, so we decided to link those two together. It was lucky for me to have a superstar, a sporting great from New Zealand, by my side. He gave some humour to the clip, so it was really cool to have him involved.


Your friend Cecilia Cho, who topped the World Amateur Ranking, gave up her New Zealand citizenship after turning pro. Have you had any thoughts along those lines?

No, no. I’ve been playing with the New Zealand flag on my bag next to my name for the last couple of years and I wasn’t thinking about changing at all. I want to play for New Zealand in the Olympics. I’m proud to have the silver fern next to my name. Nothing’s changed there.


How do you balance your golf life with school life?

I still go to school while I’m home, at Pinehurst, where I’ve been going for six years, but when I’m not there I do my studies on the road.


Over the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of correspondence. I’ve been taking subjects that are easier to do when I’m on the road, things like English Language. I took photography last year and that’s a subject where I could take some beautiful photos at the places I go to and make the portfolio later.


Once you finish school, do you intend to go to university or focus solely on golf?

No, I want to go to university. I don’t know where exactly, but we’re looking at some schools at the moment. I’ve always thought about going to university, so nothing’s really changed.


Source: Phone interview arranged by promoters of HSBC Women’s Champions

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