SINGAPORE | It is a bit unfair that everyone should ask Lydia Ko for her views on this, that and the next thing when she is still only 21. However, of all the women playing in this week’s HSBC Women’s World Championship, she was the best qualified to comment on the latest arrivals on the world golf scene. Namely, the Saudis, and the steps they have taken thus far to encourage girls in golf.
Those Saudi officials behind this new drive had clearly had Ko in mind when, not so long ago, they called for some words of wisdom from the Korean and New Zealand golfing fraternities. (Ko, of course, is a New Zealand citizen who was born in South Korea.)
Ko listened with interest to the news borne by GGP as to how the Korean representative, when he arrived in Jeddah, had explained that a Korean girls’ squad would be expected to practise for four hours every morning and for another four hours after lunch. And she gave a knowing smile when she learned that the Saudis had taken no time at all to realise that Saudi Arabian girls would not put up with any of that.
Next, the former world No. 1 pricked up her ears at what happened when the Korean’s opposite number turned up from New Zealand. To the coach in question, the only thing that mattered was that the New Zealand kids should have fun. Indeed, far from lining them up on the range, he believed in starting them off with baseball bats and balls and teaching them to play catch.
With that idea striking no more of a chord than the Korean way, the Saudis had decided to forge a plan which lay somewhere between the two.
Ko, a delightfully diplomatic soul for one of her tender years, held back from giving her thoughts on any of the above until she had wished the Saudis well with their children’s golfing futures. She hoped it would not be too long before they were playing in the Olympics, while she looked forward to welcoming a Saudi girl on the LPGA Tour.
“They need a Plan B as well as a Plan A – and that’s what I got through being brought up in New Zealand.” – Lydia Ko on Saudi Arabian women’s golf
She also congratulated the country on going to so much trouble to find the right way of doing things, and of so obviously taking equality into consideration.
Moving on, she said that they had been right – at least to a point – to have decided on a middle course when it came to schooling the new golfing aspirants. Yet what she so wanted to get across was that whatever way they chose would never work for everyone: “They shouldn’t get carried away with the notion that one size fits all…
“Speaking personally,” she continued, “I would never say the Korean approach is the wrong way because there are so many Koreans out here who thrive on everything to do with it. It’s how they’ve been brought up after all.”
Her next observation, though, concerned how she had long ago come to the conclusion that golfers did well to have rather more than merely than a single aim of becoming a world-beater of a golfer. “They need a Plan B as well as a Plan A – and that’s what I got through being brought up in New Zealand. I enjoyed being at school and I’ve enjoyed my online degree course in psychology – at least what I have done of it so far.” (She has, in fact, completed two and a half years of what is a four-year course but is currently taking a break while her golf has priority.)
She had hoped that some aspects of the psychology teaching would help with her game but, while it has not done as much directly, it has had her contemplating a career in counselling when her golfing days are done. “I always said,” she recalled, “that I wouldn’t want to be travelling the tour forever.”
Shanshan Feng was another to look at the Saudis’ dilemma – and to come down on much the same side as Ko in saying that there was no “best” way to learn golf. She, for example, had seen lots of countries getting it badly wrong. “I’ve seen plenty of girls from the West who have been told that they need to practise like the Koreans practise, and all that does is to put them off playing altogether. They’re not tuned to work like that. British people are so much more laid back.”
And neither, she added, was she tuned to work like that. “It’s all a matter of finding out what’s right for you.”
This larger-than-life character agreed that, if anything, she was probably a Chinese version of a Dame Laura Davies or a Colin Montgomerie. Like them, she was never exactly at home on the range.
As for the Saudi girls, Feng and Ko spoke with one voice in surmising that only time would tell what suited them.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand during Tuesday’s practice round prior to the HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore. Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
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