Lydia Ko: The 'astonishing' 17-year-old at the top of women's golf

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Lydia Ko celebrates winning the women's Australian Open golf tournament
New Zealand's Lydia Ko won the Women's Australian Open by two shots

Who is the best female golfer in the world? This is a question that has probably been a struggle to answer in recent times for all but the most dedicated of fans.

Yet Lydia Ko's ascension to the top of the world rankings is one of the most astonishing achievements the game has known.

At just 17 she is the youngest world number one of either gender, beating Tiger Woods by four years. By way of confirming her status, she is now celebrating victory in the Women's Australian Open.

It is the ninth triumph worldwide in a startling career to date for the South Korean-born New Zealander. This week she heads to Christchurch for her home Open, a tournament she won as an amateur two years ago.

Golf in 2015 has so far provided a packed news agenda which has overshadowed Ko's elevation to the top of the world.

Lydia Ko
Lydia Ko plans to retire from golf by the time she is 30

With Rory McIlroy dominating the men's game and the settlement of his court case, the appointment of Darren Clarke as European Ryder Cup captain and the Open Championship television deal there has been plenty to discuss.

But now, in the wake of her excellent two-shot win at Royal Melbourne, it is time to take notice of the youngster setting the pace in the women's game.

"I don't even think it hits her what she's doing," said Australia's seven-time major winner Karrie Webb.

"I keep saying that we're never going to see another young player this ready at this age, and then Lydia Ko comes along and sets the bar even higher for young players.

"At any age, it's an outstanding achievement to be number one in the world, but to do it at 17 is incredible."

Ko has already amassed $2.404m (£1.55m) in LPGA Tour prize money and her latest win was the fourth in which she has come from behind to secure victory.

Lydia Ko
Born on 24 April 1997 in South Korea, but lives in New Zealand
Made the cut in her first professional event aged 12
In 2012 she became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour when she triumphed in the Canadian Open, aged 15, before successfully defending her title in 2013
On 2 February 2015, Ko became the number one-ranked woman professional golfer

The trademark glasses have given way to contact lenses and her sights are set on improving her performances in the majors this season.

However, this is a world number one of whom no-one is yet asking the "but where is your major title?" question. Let's face it, she is only 17.

Ko already has three top 10 finishes to her name, including a runner-up placing at the Evian Masters as an amateur shortly before turning professional in 2013. She was third in last year's Women's PGA Championship.

There's no doubt she will be centre of attention in this week's New Zealand Open, but her coach David Leadbetter, who worked with Sir Nick Faldo for 14 years, believes this will not faze her in the slightest.

"Lydia just takes it in her stride," he said. "She walks on this cloud. She doesn't get overly excited. She doesn't get overly down."

The following week Ko will tee off in the Champions matchplay event in Singapore as the women's season builds towards its first major in April, the ANA Inspiration (formerly Kraft Nabisco) in California.

Lydia Ko celebrates winning the Canadian Women's Open in 2012
Lydia Ko won the Canadian Women's Open in 2012 and 2013 as an amateur

"I personally think this is the start," Ko said on reaching the top of the world rankings. "Golf is a sport that you can play for many years, and that's my plan.

"This is only the start of my second year on Tour. I've been enjoying that and I'm really looking forward to what's coming up next."

Ko added: "There's a lot of things that I need to get better at.

"Normally the thing that I say is the best part of my game is my iron shots and then I looked at my stats from last year and I thought I could increase greens in regulation. So that's what I worked on all off-season."

You might think that Ko has been brought up to be a golfing machine with nothing else in her life, but you would be wrong.

"My plan is to retire when I'm 30 so I'm not just going to go to the beach and hang out for the rest of my life," she said last week.

"There's always a second career that comes along and I'm trying to build up towards it and, because I'm playing a sport, psychology links well with it."

Ko certainly possesses a winning mentality that could enable her to transcend her sport. As she says, this is just the beginning.

Anirban Lahiri
India's Anirban Lahiri has already won two European Tour wins in his rookie season

Imagine, also, the potential for India's first golfing superstar. In the men's game, such a figure might just be emerging.

Anirban Lahiri's victory in his home open was the 11th Indian win in the European Tour's history. He came from seven strokes behind to beat compatriot SSP Chowrasia.

It could prove a hugely significant victory. This was the 27-year-old's second triumph of the year having already claimed the Malaysian Open.

What a way to start a rookie year. Only Jose Maria Olazabal (1986) and Gordon Brand Junior (1982) have managed to collect multiple wins in the season following their graduation from Tour qualifying school.

Lahiri has climbed to number 34 in the world and can look forward to making his Masters debut in April.

India is a golfing market with massive potential and if he can turn his current purple patch into something even more substantial, Lahiri could be the player to take fullest advantage.


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