Lydia Ko Becomes Youngest to Win Handa Australian
After a climate delay, four days of oppressive humidity, and some trade-off eagles, one pitched in, Lydia Ko pulled away from Amy Yang and Ariya Jutanugarn to win the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open for an auspicious start in 2015. It seems a continuation of 2014, when Ko won the “Race to the CME Globe,” earning a cool million in the process, then taking home half a million more by winning the CME Group Tour Championship as well.
Ko’s string of successes is beginning to sound like a broken record (young people can look that up), a litany of “youngest tos.” Ko can’t help it. She’s reached the grand old age of seventeen, and where I come from, that means no drinking, voting, or skipping class. For someone whose parents didn’t play golf at all, she certainly took to it. Apparently, an aunt in Australia turned her on to the game at the age of five – that’s twelve years ago. At the age of twelve, she won the North Island Women’s U19 Championship in her native New Zealand, followed by a never-ending series of precocious triumphs.
She remarks that she plays particularly well in Australia, and in light of Ko’s performance at the Royal Melbourne this week, it’s true. Her victory included some disciplined but aggressive play down the final nine. She may be a modest person in the clubhouse or giving interviews, but it was clear that Ko wasn’t there for a walk in the park. Winning is fun and lucrative.
However she might feel about playing well in Australia, I’ve never noticed that she plays poorly anywhere. Winning the Canadian Open while barely out of childhood was downright scary at the time, and she would win that event again in 2013. For a “youngest to,” that was a real eye-opener. The win in Australia belongs on the same list, as does her victory in the Handa New Zealand. Her number one ranking in the world is the biggest “youngest to” of them all, and she appears likely to hold it for some time. Every week, she’s either winning, or not far off. Australia is Ko’s sixth LPGA win, and we are beginning to see her command over the next generation of professional golfers take shape. While comparisons to the early years of Tiger Woods may not fit just right at the moment, Ko is beginning to dominate on a regular basis.
Handicapping the new stars has always been fun for me, but I thought that Lexi Thompson would be the vanguard of the next wave of greats. Watching Ko’s first Canadian win, I tried to ascertain whether she was just having an unlikely and magical week that would never happen again, or whether I was watching a genius in the making. Worrying at the time that she was missing out on all the income that could see her through the coming decades, now I feel foolish for having ever given it a thought.
In hindsight, Lydia Ko is remarkably the same after each event, win or lose. She gives a brief and unemotional analysis of her round, and never fails to salute her nearest opponent, regardless of how it turned out. She embraces results with good humor and grace, even in the face of disappointment, although she remarked at times that anger at herself has often sparked some great scoring runs.
Next week, Ko gets to do one of her favorite things – go home, where the golf, friends, family, and food best suit her. If she stays true to her word, she’ll play for another thirteen years before becoming a professional psychologist. It will likely be her first professional pursuit without a “youngest to,” and we should enjoy it while it lasts.