The extraordinary world No. 1 – Lydia Ko

Mark Townsend reveals how the Kiwi teenager reached the top of her sport before turning 18

In 2014 Lydia Ko was listed among Time magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People. Ko was only one of two on the list under 20, the other was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan teenager shot by a Taliban militant on her way to school, and one of only five from the world of sport.

It might seem a little out of the ordinary for a female golfer to make such a line-up but Ko is extraordinary. Her amateur exploits – she never missed a cut in 25 professional starts, winning twice – signified that it would only be a matter of time before she became the World No.1.

On April 24 Ko turned 18, two days later she closed out her seventh victory on the LPGA Tour, three more already than Michelle Wie.

Here we reveal what makes the adopted New Zealander tick. On the one hand she is just like any other teenager, she doesn’t like getting up and a lot of sentences are punctuated with the word ‘like’, on the other hand she might just turn out to be the best female golfer who has ever played the game.

My mentors
I played with Juli Inkster for the first time in Thailand like two, three years ago. Straight off the bat, she was like a big sister, like a mom. She led me through like an easy way in.

I asked her a lot of questions, and that’s what I always do. I just ask these questions about the Tour and what they do and even their practice.

5 Minutes with… Juli Inkster

Being a teenager
I wake up and the alarm goes off and I want to like throw my phone, because I don’t want to wake up yet. I feel like a normal teenager when I’m in the hotel and that’s what makes it more fun and exciting. I don’t have to think about everything else. All I need to think about is just hitting the white ball into the hole.

Off the course I do a lot of teenage things: lie on my bed, watch TV, and keep watching TV until my mom screams at me saying, ‘Stop watching’.

On the course it’s obviously hard to be that normal teenager, especially playing with players that are older than me. I think maturity is a very good thing you really need to go through, and the earlier the better.

Even in pro-am parties or gala dinners you get to meet business people. Even though I’m not at school full time, I’m kind of learning about the things that go on outside of golf in the world.

When I make a very stupid bogey, I tend to like laugh Plans for retirement
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. There’s always a second career that comes along with it and I’m trying to build up towards it and, because I’m playing a sport, psychology links well with it.

Her closest rivals
I think playing with different players, even if it’s not like literally talking about something or they give me advice, I can kind of get a feel and just learn stuff when I play alongside them.

When I play alongside Stacy Lewis, she has given me some really good tips. I said I am not touching my clubs for a month in the off-season. She said, that’s good. You’re being smart.

So she’s been one of the girls that really helps out. The more I play alongside Stacy and Inbee (Park) and talk to them on the putting green or on the range the more I get comfortable with them.

Inbee is better at dealing with pressure than me. She’s got the full poker face. When I make a very stupid bogey, I tend to like laugh because it’s so funny that it’s so dumb. So there’s this weird part of me where I go, OK, it’s part of it and I just go.

Stacy Lewis backs calls for mixed-gender Ryder Cup

Areas for improvement
Consistency in my long game. I’m slowly progressing and getting to know more about the swing. Like especially when I play, it’s like my second, third or fourth week, my old habits come in and I kind of mix the two swings together.  If I’m more consistent, I don’t have to rely on one particular area of my game.

Lydia Ko interview – part two

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