Even though Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand was judged Rolex Player of the year for 2016, it is impossible to go past the consistent stats of Lydia Ko as the increasingly dominant force on the LPGA Tour. At 19 years of age, she appears to be the most quietly aggressive player. Each year’s additional experience and emotional maturity flows on to more wins.
Not unlike her Australian neighbor and LPGA Hall of Famer, Karrie Webb, who dominated the LPGA for a decade, Ko’s game approach is subdued, modest and focused. There are no hissy-fits on or off-course. There are no outbursts about prize-money or making claims for a berth on PGA events. This “down under” approach to humble professionalism is refreshing and quite possibly the secret to her formidable on-course performances.
Ko’s quick journey to professional star
Ko turned professional in October 2013 at age 16, after being granted special dispensation from the governing committee of the LPGA. Players must normally be 18 years of age to join the LPGA. However, by this stage, Ko was considered an anomaly having already racked up back-to-back wins at the CN Canadian Women’s Open as an amateur!
Ko made her mark at this tournament: Inbee Park was three strokes behind Ko’s 15 under in the 2012 event, followed by a single stroke victory in 2013. The purse for each event went to the runner-up. Ko announced her plans to turn pro after winning for the second time. This performance announced her arrival to the LPGA community.
Ko secured the No. 1 player ranking on February 2, 2015 at the tender age of 17 years, nine months and eight days. Think back to what you were doing at that age. Then, consider what a feat it was for Ko to take the title of the youngest No. 1 ranked player ever in pro golf, male or female. With 19 professional wins including 14 in the LPGA now under her belt, it’s no surprise that pundits are predicting the best is yet to come.
Ko’s big deals
- Ko’s first Major win was at the French Evian Championship in 2015. Shooting a 63 in the final round left USA’s Lexi Thompson six strokes behind. Another win and another record as the youngest winner of a Major Championship event.
- At the time of writing, on the eve of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, all eyes are on Ko in the hope that another record might be attained. In four starts at this event, Ko has placed outright 3rd, T3rd, 1st and 2nd — extraordinary results.
- Under immense pressure on the last hole, Ko made birdie to avoid a playoff for the Silver Medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Inbee Park, representing all that is great about South Korean ladies golf, snapped up the Gold with five shots to spare. Interestingly, and despite her impeccable record, Ko notched her very first hole-in-one at the games on the par-3 8th.
- Ko took out the Major ANA Inspiration in 2016 with a 12 under performance, defeating rising star Charley Hull by a stroke (Korean Chun In-gee tied for 2nd with Hull).
- Despite leading by two shots midway through the tournament, Ko faded to tie 3rd in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.
- Brooke Henderson, the on-the-rise Canadian player, pipped Ko on the first playoff hole to snatch the Women’s PGA Championship in 2016.
- Ko also tied 3rd behind two of South Korea’s best at the Women’s British Open in 2015.
Ko is the recipient of an uncanny number of high profile awards, including:
- Mark H. McCormack Medal in 2011, 2012, and 2013 (named after Hall of Famer and founder of IMG). The Royal & Ancient Club in St Andrews presents the medal annually to the top amateur in that year. Ko was the first female recipient of the award in 2011. She again made history when awarded the same medal in 2012 and 2013.
- Halberg Supreme Award for outstanding sporting performance by a New Zealander 2013
- NZ Sportswoman of the Year in 2013, 2014, 2015
- LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2014
- LPGA Player of the Year in 2015
- The LPGA Tour Money Winner in 2015
- Best Female Golfer ESPY Award in 2015, 2016
- Race to the CME Globe winner in 2014 and 2015, and a close second in 2016. Not unlike the men’s Race to Dubai, this year-long competition assigns points to player’s performance with a $1,000,000 winner’s purse. This is the biggest take-home pay packet on the LPGA tour.
- GWAA Female Player of the Year in 2015
- Ko won four out of five playoff situations, demonstrating her mental toughness.
- Of her 90 LPGA starts — including time as an amateur — Ko only missed the cut once and had 53 top 10 finishes.
- She is the youngest female player to chalk up $1 million in prize money, achieved in 2015. Her career earnings at the time of writing are $7,382,894. According to Money Nation, Ko has managed to amass approximately $13.1 million in takings and various endorsement arrangements — not too shabby for a 19-year-old female golfer!
For the 2015 and 2016 years, Ko’s playing stats are nothing short of miraculous. They easily reflect her Tour domination:
- Greens in regulation (GIR) ranked 2 (2015) and 1 (2016)
- Putts per GIR ranked 2 and 1
- Sand saves ranked 1 and 2
- Scoring average (of 69) ranked 2 and 2 (note that Speith’s is 69.52!)
- Sub-Par Holes ranked 3 and 7.
Ko is dominating not only in statistics but also in her quiet, totally unflappable demeanor. Her easy swing and effortless technical elements almost tease some of her hard-hitting opponents. Do yourself a favor and tune into the next few LPGA events to check out her talent. There are many lessons to be learned from watching a champion player like Lydia Ko.
— N. Incoll