All systems Ko for teenager

  • By: Mark Garrod, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent
  • Last Updated: February 13 2013, 15:09 GMT

Rory McIlroy is still three months away from his 24th birthday, but as he prepares to return to action in Arizona next week the 'Boy Wonder' might just be feeling a bit old.

Lydia Ko: Already a major threat

On Sunday golf's leading woman amateur Lydia Ko became the youngest winner of a Ladies European Tour event when she won her home New Zealand Open.

The remarkable Ko is not 16 until April, the same month in which China's 14-year-old Guan Tian-lang will become the youngest player to compete in the US Masters at Augusta.

Guan, who earned his spot by winning the Asia-Pacific amateur championship, will probably have to perform miracles just to make the halfway cut.

Ko, on the other hand, is already a threat whenever and wherever she plays - and that includes majors. Her latest victory was her third in just 12 professional tournaments.

She first came to global attention in January last year when she lifted the New South Wales title, beating Wales' Becky Morgan by four.

That made her the youngest golfer, male or female, to win a professional title, although that record was broken just five months later when 14-year-old Brooke Henderson won a Canadian Women's Tour event.

But, not to be outshone, Ko was back in the headlines in August when she took over from American Lexi Thompson as the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour - the Premier League, in other words.

Since then the spotlight has really been on her, but the way she handled it last week in her homeland showed what she is capable of.

"There was a lot of pressure put on her by the media and the country for her to perform," Ko's coach Guy Wilson told BBC Sport. "All around the course it was branded with her photos and the catchphrase 'Ready Set Ko'.

"It was just huge for an amateur, a 15-year-old to feel that sort of pressure.

"She had big galleries following her from tee to green for the whole tournament and I think she felt sheer exhaustion when she was able to say finally it's over."

Ko could not hold back the tears when she converted the three-foot putt to edge out American Amelia Lewis for a triumph that lifts her up eight spots to 30th in the women's world rankings.

"I didn't cry at the Canadian Open (her LPGA Tour win), so I don't know why I cried here," she said.

"I am not the sort of person who shows expression or feeling, but I guess the tears showed what this means to me.

"I guess it meant more. It is our national open, so to win means a lot."

Wilson, Ko's coach since the age of six, recalled it was in the New Zealand Open where the youngster played her first professional tournament aged 12 - and did not just make the cut, but finished seventh.

"Basically that's when I thought 'we've got somebody here'.

"Christmas to her is a day off golf because the course is closed. Is she a normal kid? No, not by any means."

The rules of the LPGA Tour limit Ko's starts this year to a mere eight, but Wilson added: "We may go down the road of petitioning the LPGA to say that we want to turn pro early.

"She's got some big goals this year and I think if they go all right she may look to turn pro later this year."

Guan, meanwhile, has another big chance coming up soon.

The European Tour's youngest-ever player - he was only 13 years 177 days when he competed in the China Open last year - is in the field for the Open Championship international qualifier in Bangkok at the end of this month.

What Ko has just done ought to inspire him and do not forget that it was only four years ago that 16-year-old Matteo Manassero came 13th in The Open at Turnberry, then the following April he was 36th at The Masters.


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