Rookie Tradition

Lydia Ko Part of a Great Rookie Tradition

There’s a rather prestigious list out of all the former Rookies of the Year who played on the LPGA Tour. Although the original founders of the tour were, by enlarge, still around, they didn’t start celebrating such things as the greatest first-year player until 1962, when the award was given to Mary Miller. Further, they named the award, along with Rolex, after one of the greats from the era before, Louise Suggs, and they’ve done it every year since.

The Rookie of the Year Award is a list of golf thoroughbreds, although some of them are more well-remembered than others. As an example, we’ll throw out names such as Nancy Lopez, Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng, and Azahara Munoz. These women all surprised in their inaugural years.

ko 1 Lydia Ko will receive the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award for 2014. In a very notable first year, she won two events, had two runner-up finishes, finished in the top ten nine more times, and did it all at the remarkably young age of 17.
That’s the crux of Ko’s story, the fact that she entered the tour before the usual legal age, and won – that she won two professional events as an amateur, one at the age of 14, and by the end of the rookie year, has amassed somewhere around one and a half million. Incidentally, she’s learning to drive…a car, I mean.
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When asked about the future, Ko typically lightens the topic by saying things like, “I just want to have fun and keep doing what I’m doing.” That gift, to dial down the seriousness and angst of international pressure on a teen, is an important part of why she has won so often, and at such a young age. She’s had a particularly good time in Canada, winning the national open in that country twice. Ko and Canada form a relationship made in Heaven.

Reading Ko’s story again, I became curious as to how well the other recipients did in their first year, using the same names cited earlier. Mary Mills, the first recipient, didn’t win anything in the first year, but won several in the following three. Australian Karrie Webb, surprisingly, had only one tournament win in her first season of ’94. Annika Sorenstam was invited for three events in ’93, and achieved three top tens. Then, she went ballistic and took the tour by storm. Juli Inkster joined the tour in ’83, and won one event that year. One might have thought, considering her work since, that she would have gone right to work. Until Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson came along, Paula Creamer held the title of youngest rookie winner at 18, taking the Sybase and the Evian, significant wins. Yani Tseng had two wins as well in her debut as an eighteen-year-old (the Canadian Women’s Tour and the Indian Open). Spaniard Munoz took one trophy iin ’87 at the age of 22. Of course, such statistics are only comparisons in regards to how fast each player got out of the blocks. Ochoa and Sorenstam need offer no apologies for taking a few months to take off.

ko 2And what of the founder, Louise Suggs? In her rookie year of ’48, she took the first win of her eventual 58 tour victories. I purposely held back the name of Nancy Lopez until the last, as her rookie year is as startling for its success as Ko’s is for her age. Lopez turned pro in ’78, and won nine times – impressive by any account.

No one can tell for sure where Ko’s career is going, but we’re all but certain that it’s going to be remarkable. Will she be a moderate long-trm success, or a Sorenstam/Ochoa/Suggs type? With that special gift of inner calm on demand, I’m optimistic for great things from Ko – and often. Her rookie year that has just been celebrated will very likely give way to much greater ones.
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