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Published: Wednesday, 7/17/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

COMMENTARY

Lydia Ko is hardly an amateur

16-year-old shows skills, poise against LPGA’s best

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Lydia Ko tees off under the watchful eye of her mother, Tina Hyon, during a practice round Tuesday at Highland Meadows Golf Club. The 16-year-old Ko, who’s the reign­ing U.S. Ama­teur cham­pion, won the 2012 Ca­na­dian Women’s Open — an LPGA event. Lydia Ko tees off under the watchful eye of her mother, Tina Hyon, during a practice round Tuesday at Highland Meadows Golf Club. The 16-year-old Ko, who’s the reign­ing U.S. Ama­teur cham­pion, won the 2012 Ca­na­dian Women’s Open — an LPGA event.
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Few of us have ever seen Lydia Ko blink. She is 16 years old, an amateur, and regardless of setting, pressure, and level of competition — even playing against the best pros in the world — comes off as unflappable.

Is she golf’s Ice Queen?

Tina Hyon, her mother, knows better.

She is one of the tournament’s sponsor invitees, and when she said yes, truthfully, it was one of the biggest coups in the event’s history.If they exist, and we certainly won’t argue with mom, they will next appear Thursday when Ko tees off in the first round of the Marathon Classic.“I know she always feels nervous,” Hyon said Tuesday at Highland Meadows. “She tells me, ‘No one can see my insides … the butterflies.’ ”

Simply put, this is not merely some amateur from Baton Rouge. This is the top women’s amateur in the world, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, and the winner of the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open — an LPGA Tour event — at the age of 15 years, 4 months. It was, by the way, her third victory worldwide in a professional event as an amateur.

Ko is polite, though a bit reserved, during an interview. She is, we must remember, a kid doing her best to deal with old men holding notebooks and tape recorders.

Her mom, however, is a stitch. And that was surprising considering Ko warned that Hyon prefers not to be interviewed. Turns out she could be doing stand-up comedy.

For example, it was pointed out that in 14 professional events Lydia had never missed a cut.

“Not yet,” Hyon deadpanned, before cutting loose with a giggle.

It is a streak that includes all three LPGA major championships, to date, in 2013. She posted top 25 finishes in two of them.

“I don’t really think about that streak,” Ko said. “Anything can happen. You don’t ever know how it will go. I just hope to keep playing consistently.”

True story: Last week, LPGA veteran Christina Kim called the Marathon Classic office and, during a conversation with tournament director Judd Silverman, asked who the sponsor exemptions were for 2013 at Highland Meadows.

When told Ko was one of them, Kim replied, “Nuts, she’ll eat that place alive.”

Kim probably didn’t say “nuts,” but that’s neither here nor there.

True, Ko hits the ball long and straight, knocks her iron shots close, and is a pretty solid putter. At the Meadows, fairways, and greens usually translates into a lot of birdie opportunities.

“That’s the case on any golf course, right?” Ko said.

Well, yes. Right.

She has been in Toledo for a week already and has been on the course for practice rounds of either nine or 18 holes four times.

“It’s quite traditional,” Ko said. “It’s not easy. What you see is what it gives.”

The last time Ko set foot in Ohio she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Country Club in Cleveland. Less than two weeks later, she added the Canadian Open, where she refused to buckle under the pressure and some big-name pursuers.

“I never saw that coming,” Ko admitted.

It was the U.S. Amateur, though, that remains special to both Ko and her mother.

“It’s a major on the amateur circuit,” Lydia said, “and it’s match play, so you never know what might happen. It’s the tournament I really wanted to win.”

Or, as Hyon put it, “She was No. 1 amateur, and she proved it.”

Yes, indeed.

Ko was born in South Korea, but was raised in New Zealand. Her family lives on the outskirts of Auckland, the nation’s largest city.

Does it get this hot and humid there?

“No,” Hyon said straight-faced. “It’s winter.”

I told you, she’s a pip.

Hyon travels everywhere with her daughter, walks every hole of every practice and competitive round, and doesn’t attempt to hide the pride she has in Lydia.

“When I think about when I was young, when I was her age … well, it’s amazing what she has done. Just super.”

And that’s no joke.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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