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Ko’s Measured Approach

RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | If Lydia Ko needs a crystal ball as to what could become of her future, she needed to look no further than her playing partner in the first two rounds of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Michelle Wie stood where Ko is now. It is hard to believe it was 10 years ago people and the press were touting Wie as the next “can’t-miss kid.” Wie made quite a splash when she was a 13-year-old in 2003 at Mission Hills Country Club. She went into the final round in third place, eventually finishing tied for ninth. The next year she finished fourth and the following year tied for 14th. She was dubbed the female Tiger Woods and had hit drives more than 300 yards. It seemed like her blossoming amateur feats would bloom into an equally fragrant professional career but the smell is more pungent these days. Wie now is just another face on the LPGA Tour. Since turning pro in 2005, she has won only twice and has struggled this year, playing five events coming into the tour’s first major with her highest finish 45th. It is a long way from when Wie showed so much promise as an amateur and garnered all that interest. Now it is Ko’s turn. She is the teenage golfer phenom du jour, the special of the week, the featured item. At 15, she has attracted so much attention because of her ability at such a young age. The platitudes and clichés are sterling; great talent at such a young age, unbelievable ball striking, wise beyond her years. Her adopted homeland of New Zealand has embraced her and broadcasted the first two rounds of the Kraft on live television. Much to her credit, the teenager has been extremely modest, despite winning on the LPGA and Ladies European Tour, and at least publicly she isn’t letting the fame affect her naturally shy personality. “I look up to everyone out here, I think they’re really great,” Ko said. “Hopefully in my future I will be able to become like them.” Fortunately, Ko has Wie and others to learn from both on the LPGA and PGA Tour. Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar had storied amateur moments in major championships and then took several years to learn how to be successful as pros. At the Kraft there have been Wie and twin sisters who came three years before her. The Songs, Aree and Naree, carried the child-prodigy title back in 2000. Aree Song was the more successful of the Thai-born sisters. At 13, she became the youngest player to win any USGA championship when she captured the U.S. Girls’ Junior. In 2000, with a sponsor exemption to the Kraft, she tied for 10th. The Songs struggled mightily after turning professional. Neither won on the LPGA Tour. Naree isn’t on the tour any longer; her sister lost her card two years ago. It’s fun when you are an amateur. When you turn professional it’s work, and work is not fun, no matter how much of a passion you have for it. Suddenly it’s dealing with the rigors of business traveling, a missed cut and whispers about your dedication and lonely hotel rooms, questioning at 2 in the morning why you missed that four-foot putt that would have saved par. Fortunately, Ko is already ahead of those before her. She seems to understand the distinction between amateur and pro. “I think it’s become more like fun and serious at the same time,” Ko said. “I’m an amateur, you know, so money doesn’t really matter up here as much as (it does to) the pros. One shot counts and stuff. Obviously I’m trying my best out here, but I’ve come here for experience. I think it’s really fun, and I get to see a little bit of what being on tour is like as well.” While some of the older pros were a little put off by Wie and the Songs when they played as amateurs in majors, Ko has received nothing but compliments. “I played with her in Australia and she doesn’t seem like she’s only 15 years old,” Yani Tseng said. “How good she plays, she shot 9 under and played with me and Michelle, and she didn’t even look like nervous. She just had fun. She smiled, and after she made a putt, she was like, ‘Thank you. Thank you very much.’ It was so easy.” The other promising sign is Ko swears there is no timetable for her turning professional, despite the unwanted advice she is getting from outsiders. “I guess everybody has their own perspective, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a decision made by my family and my coaching staff,” Ko said. “Like I said, we haven’t really talked about it. We’ve got no real idea. I’ve been up here and seen a little bit of what the tour is like. It seems really fun and I would like to be out here.” Let’s hope it’s on her timetable and Ko is allowed to have a childhood, unlike those before her.


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