Young New Zealand golfer Lydia Ko has been making headlines around the sporting world since she was a child and, and although she is still a teenager, she has already rewritten golfing history.
The former secondary school student from Auckland’s North Shore has been hailed as the greatest young golfer, male or female, to ever have played the game.
Ko’s exceptional combination of physical and mental ability has had international golfing greats shaking their heads in disbelief and marvelling at the maturity of the Kiwi teenager.
Top ranked women's golfer
On February 2nd 2015 Lydia Ko became the youngest ever professional golfer, of either gender, to be ranked number one in the world at 17 years 9 months 8 days of age.
She was the youngest golfer in history to win the New Zealand Women’s Open and the youngest-ever winner on the LPGA Tour when she took the Canadian Open title, a title she successfully defended again in 2013.
From making the cut in her first professional event at age 12, Ko went on to compete in a series of international tournaments and by 2012 (at 14 years 9 months) she had become the youngest-ever winner of a professional event worldwide - winning the 2012 NSW Open in Australia.
At 19 years of age Ko has notched up 19 wins as a professional including two major championships. Recently Ko added an Olympic silver medal to her trophy cabinet competeing for New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Lydia Ko has not only raised eyebrows with her astonishing skill and ability but also her mature attitude and composure - which has proved to be a winning formula in a traditionally male-dominated sport and one so dependent on temperament.
She is credited with a relaxed playing style and shows no signs of nerves. It’s a trait she also displays off the course with an ability to front a room full of media with confidence and humility -rare in any sport particularly for someone at such a young age.
While international superstar status appears to have limited impact on the level-headed young Kiwi who, like any other teenager, rates swimming, having fun, eating Italian, watching TV and Harry Potter amongst her favourite things, in reality Ko spends more than 35-hours-a-week with a golf club in her hand.
Achievements and humility
Ko was a former pupil of Pinehurst, an independent school in Albany, Auckland and despite her unusual school schedule which preceded her decision to turn professional, Ko managed to achieve numeracy qualifications for NZ University Entrance a year ahead of the requirement - a "tremendous effort", according to her school’s executive principal, Sherida Penman Walters.
"She is an outstanding ambassador for our school and a role model to her peers and young aspiring sportswomen and sportsmen throughout the world," says Walters.
Messing around with golf
Lydia Ko was born in Seoul, Korea on 24 April, 1997 and moved to New Zealand at age seven.
It was a trip to Australia to visit her aunt when Ko was just five that became the defining moment in her life. The aunt, herself a golfer, bought young Lydia a 7-iron and putter which she started "messing around with".
Ko’s father took her to a driving range where onlookers enjoyed seeing the little girl hitting balls. In turn, she loved hitting them and also taking part in putting competitions with adults.
When Lydia’s mother Tina Hyon asked a professional to teach her child how to hit the ball, he told her that she was too young.
Ko's former coach Guy Wilson, director of the Institute of Golf in Auckland, worked with Ko since she was seven (they parted ways in 2013). Wilson says it was when Ko made the cut at the New Zealand Open at the tender age of 12 that he realised her special talent.
"It was her first professional event and she ended up finishing seventh. Basically that's when I thought, 'OK, we've got somebody here'," Guy Wilson says.
Focus and work ethic
An intense focus and strong work ethic have played a key role in the young golfer’s success.
She says focus is the strongest part of her game: "I have to work hard, which sometimes can be boring, but the end result makes me smile."
Ko - now coached by American based coach Sean Hogan - lists her most admired golfers as Michelle Wie, Rory McIlroy, Lexi Thompson and Phil Mickelson, and says the best thing about golf is meeting new people, enjoying competitions against different ages, concentrating on games and seeing hard work pay off.
The young golfer is also an advocate of New Zealand golf courses listing three of the country’s top resorts as her favourites - Kauri Cliffs in Northland, and Jacks Point and The Hills, both in Queenstown. She is a fan of the popular South Island alpine resort and says she has been lucky enough to stay and play at Millbrook, another award-winning Queenstown golfing retreat.
New Zealand perfect for golf
She also credits living in New Zealand as having impacted on her golfing career and says the country is perfect for golf: "The temperature doesn’t get near the 40s and there are no gales. Golfers don’t like gales."
Tina Hyon, who travels to every tournament with her daughter, says it is always nice to come back to New Zealand: "You feel it, there’s something good in the air we breathe here."
Living on Auckland’s North Shore, Hyon says, is like village life, "very peaceful".
And, while the world wakes up to the exceptional talent of young Ko the young Kiwi continues her level-headed approach with a single focus for her life ambition - to be a major title winner and New Zealand’s best golfer ever.
Background: Lydia Ko’s achievements
World Amateur #1 for 130 weeks
2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open Champion
2012 US Amateur Champion
2012 New South Wales Open Champion
2012 Australian Strokeplay Champion
New Zealand Women’s Open - 7th 2010, 4th 2011, 1st 2013, 2nd 2014
2013 CN Canadian Women’s Open Champion
Major championship win -The Evian Championship 2015 - 1st
Major championship win - ANA Inspiration 2016 - 1st
Rio 2016 Olympics silver medal - 2nd