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What’s OK for Ko May No Be OK For The Rest

HOYLAKE, ENGLAND l The riot of differing opinions on the 15-year-old Lydia Ko were never going to disturb the player herself; the winner of the recent Canadian Open just carried on quietly with her golfing business.
You notice, for a start, that she does not go in for any of the usual contortions on the follow-through by way of encouraging her shots to fly this way or that. In her young life, nothing has ever happened to make her doubt that the ball is going anywhere other than bang on target.
No wonder her mother, Tina, was one of the less-stressed parents at Hoylake. Yes, she followed every shot but – and here is the key – she had no trouble in carrying on a conversation at the same time.
The family is an interesting one. Like Michelle Wie’s family, the Kos’ history is more academic than sporty. Lydia’s father was in banking but is now retired. Tina is an English graduate, while Lydia’s older sister has just qualified as an architect.
Lydia is clever and loves to read. She scored 99 per-cent in a recent maths exam, though Tina is quick to suggest that it is the retired maths professor who proffered individual tuition who deserves most of the credit.
At the start of the year, the plan was that Lydia would sit eight Cambridge Board “O” Grades at her New Zealand High School. However, even before she won the US Amateur and the Women’s Canadian Open, her parents went to see the principal and cut the eight to four – Maths, English, History and Physical Education. The feeling was that any more would be asking too much of one with her busy golfing schedule.
The Canadian Open result came as a shock to the family. When, in her post-tournament press conference, Lydia said she liked the sound of going to college, her mother felt constrained to mention that she missed so much school that that was unlikely to happen.
The truth is that they are learning and listening. At Hoylake, Lydia spoke with Michelle Wie. They all admire the way Michelle has divided her time between golf and Stanford but, on the other hand, Tina suspects that it could just make sense for her daughter to play her golf now and catch up on her schooling later.
“Lydia,” she mentioned, “has said she does not want to do too long a time when she is a professional golfer. We talk about it often.”
If that were their chosen route, it would tie in with what Laura Davies said last week. Davies is no King Herod among golfers: She never had any reservations about Wie playing in their tournaments when she was 13 and, by the same token, she has delighted in Ko’s feats. She thinks the girl is brilliant but hazards a guess that she will not be playing beyond the age of 30.
“By the time Lydia’s 30,” said this winner of four majors, “she will have had 23 years of beating balls on a daily basis. If she doesn’t have injury problems by then – something which is pretty unlikely – she will simply have had enough.”
In some ways, an earlier, quicker golfing career – like swimming or gymnastics – makes sense for girls. Kevin Craggs, the Scotland coach, is just one to see things that way. He has known any number of promising pupils who, on reaching their later 20s, lose interest as they start thinking about having a family.
On a slightly different tack, he points to how juniors are nowadays being trained on all fronts – technical, mental, course-management, etc. – earlier than ever before. They play an ever-increasing number of tournaments and, by the time they reach 18, all but the most dedicated are no longer stimulated by the amateur environment. They are bored rigid.
“As the national coach, it is a big frustration for me,” said the coach, who added that many of these players will turn professional simply by way of having something different to do – and never mind that their stroke-play averages tell their own story of how they do not have a hope of making it.
The situation is likely to be exacerbated as, over in New Zealand, hundreds of would-be Lydia Kos are now starting at age 4 and having golf lessons in primary schools from the age of 5.
Before they start queuing up to play on the LPGA and LET tours even sooner than such as Ko and the 16-year-old Charley Hull, the various bodies – amateur as well as professional – need to stop and think now how best to manage the situation.
As Shona Malcolm, the CEO of the LGU points out, officialdom has a duty of care; a duty to take stock: “Some sort of collaboration is vital – not just for the sake of the children concerned but for the game overall.”
Perhaps the most difficult message the various parties will need to get across to parents the world is that what is OK for Ko is not OK for the rest.


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