Exclusive: Lydia Ko wants to go down as ‘the player who had the most fun’

June 4, 2015
Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, gives a high-five to an enthusiastic young fan, four-year old Mackenzie Wilson after walking off the 11th hole during the pro-am at the Manulife LPGA Classic golf tournament in Cambridge, Ontario, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP)

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, gives a high-five to an enthusiastic young fan, four-year old Mackenzie Wilson after walking off the 11th hole during the pro-am at the Manulife LPGA Classic golf tournament in Cambridge, Ontario, Wednesday, June 3, 2015. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP)

By Brian Han

Lydia Ko has earned her spot as the face of the LPGA Tour at the age of 18.

She leads a younger generation of players into the future of a global sport. One that’s been in dire need of a successor to hall of famers like Annika Sorenstam and Pak Se Ri.

Her meteoric rise to becoming the world’s youngest No. 1 professional golfer is well documented.

The scrutiny can become tiresome, but Ko is trying to take it all in stride.

“I do try to get away from it all,” she told the Korea Times regarding her time in the spotlight. “But I understand with success comes the responsibility… so I’m fine with that.”

Never missed a cut as an amateur and won two LPGA events during that span, turned pro at 16, named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people at 17, these are the headlines by which the public defines her.

But it all has happened so fast and somehow Ko has kept her cool both on and off the course.

“If you’ve seen me play, you’ll see how I am pretty relaxed out there on the golf course,” Ko said. “This probably sounds boring, but I look at everything one shot at a time. If that’s what you call a strong mental approach, then I guess that’s what it is.”

Lydia Ko of New Zealand laughs standing by her trophy after winning the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Daly City, Calif. Ko won the tournament for the second straight year, beating Morgan Pressel on the second hole of a playoff. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Lydia Ko of New Zealand laughs standing by her trophy after winning the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Daly City, Calif. Ko won the tournament for the second straight year, beating Morgan Pressel on the second hole of a playoff. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

She’s unique from the young phenoms we’ve seen in golf’s past.

When a teenage Tiger Woods took the golf world by storm, his demeanor was ruthless.

He’d blast his drives past everyone else’s and roar along with fans after clutch putts.

If he had a lead going into Sunday everyone else would take the cue and roll over.

It was dramatic.

Ko on the other hand is consistent and precise. She’s like a surgeon on the course.

If you could peek into the mind of Tiger and Ko at the same age, they probably had similar career aspirations.

“I do think about normal type things [including] the Hall of Fame, winning multiple majors,” she said.

But then she breaks away from the pack again.

“One thing I’m hoping people will remember me by over my career is that I was the player who had the most fun!” she added.

What people tend to assume of elite athletes is that they don’t have much of a life outside of the sport.

To a degree that’s true. For some more than others.

“Hobbies? No, I don’t have time, it’s all about hit, hit, hit,” world No. 12 Mirim Lee said at the 2015 ANA Inspiration echoing the responses of other pros.

But Ko tries to fit new experiences into her hectic lifestyle nonetheless.

“I enjoyed going on a night safari when I was in Singapore,” she said referring to her time there for the 2015 HSBC Women’s Championship. “We had a blast! It was quite an adventure.”

But then there are times where competition takes precedent over what would otherwise be a time to revel in the moment.

“[It's] nothing too extravagant,” she said describing her usual celebration after a win. “I’m usually packing up heading to an airport onto the next event, so I really don’t have time.”

Regardless of the sacrifices she has to make, Ko is the maker of her own destiny. This is what she signed up for and there’s no thinking twice about that.

“I decided to play golf professionally because I wanted to, not because anyone else wanted me to,” she explained. “My parents started me on golf lessons when I was very young, and I seemed to pick it up fairly quickly. Plus, it was a lot of fun and it still is!”

No one really knows what it’s like to be a world No. 1 athlete unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

The pressure, expectations, scrutiny are all part of the territory, and when Ko feels overwhelmed, she refers back to what she calls the most important lesson she’s learned from the game of golf.

“Good or bad, there’s always tomorrow,” she said.

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