The biggest change for Lydia Ko wasn’t just receiving a paycheck. It was handling the rigors of playing full-time on the LPGA tour as a teenager.
After playing in 11 LPGA tournaments as an amateur in 2013, Ko is in the midst of a full Tour schedule in her first season as a professional golfer.
“I’m playing competitive golf for weeks in a row,” the 17-year-old said Wednesday at Highland Meadows Golf Club. “That’s the biggest difference. I’ve been trying to balance my schedule out so that I’m not overly tired during the third week of the Tour.”
Currently the second-ranked golfer in the world in the LPGA’s Rolex Rankings, the teen from New Zealand will tee off at 1:10 p.m. today for the start of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I.
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While she hasn’t made any major changes to her routine as a professional, Ko has found that the LPGA isn’t just about playing two to four days a week. It involves promotional appearances, corporate dinners, and various galas that require a time commitment, as well as maintaining physical and psychological health. When Ko returns home after a rigorous stretch of golf, she makes a point to take two to three days off to rest and re-focus for her next tournament.
“You have to try to balance everything out and try to do as much as you can,” said Ko, the only amateur golfer to win two LPGA events. “And it’s always about being prepared on Thursday.”
Ko announced in October that she planned to turn professional and petitioned the LPGA to waive its requirement that players be 18 or older to join the tour, an exemption the LPGA granted.
Lexi Thompson joined the LPGA at 15 in 2010, but had the opposite experience as Ko. She played in tournaments in which she was invited on the basis of sponsor exemptions.
“As a young kid, I was playing every week, as a junior and an amateur,” Thompson said. “Coming out here, I was only playing 10 times a year for my first few years out here.
“My main struggle was traveling and being around people you didn’t know for the first few years. It takes a few years to get to know a lot of players, to make friends, and to get used to the travel schedule.”
Ko said she has found role models on the tour, including Thompson and Michelle Wie.
“I’ve always looked up Michelle Wie,” Ko said. “She turned pro at an early age, and she graduated from Stanford. I’ve always had a dream of graduating college, also. She’s walked along that path so hopefully I can walk along her path.”
Wie, who ranks sixth in the Rolex Rankings, also considers Ko a role model.
“It’s crazy, because when I first played with her, she was 15 or something, and she said she wanted to go to college, and she told me that I’m someone whom she looks up to,” Wie said. “It’s really strange to hear that from other people, but she’s done so great. She’s got a great head on her shoulders, and I feel very honored that I can help her, in any way I can.
“I want to help her make it easier for her, because I know what it’s like to be young and to be out on tour. Hopefully I’ve helped her a little bit.”
Ko still has a year of high school to finish in New Zealand, but in her first professional season she won the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April and has earned seven top-10 finishes thus far.
“There’s a lot of things I need to learn, so I think this is a really good experience for me, playing on the tour,” said Ko, who began golfing when she was 5. “I’ve been having lots of fun and getting compliments from other people, so it’s definitely helped my confidence.”