The Joy of Golf: Lydia Ko the greatest teenager golf has ever seen

Joy Chakravarty 09:05 17/09/2015
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Superstar potential: Lydia Ko on her way to an historic victory in Evian championship.

Lydia Ko is just 18 years and four months old, so it really is way too early to call her the best lady golfer ever to roam planet Earth, or even the ‘Next Tiger Woods’.

But one thing is for sure, she is definitely the best teenage golfer of all time. By winning the Evian Championship last week, a major on the LPGA Tour, the young New Zealander became the second youngest winner of a golfing major.

Only Young Tom Morris was younger than her when he won the 1968 Open Championship aged 17.

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Records are records, but there is a big difference in the way Ko and Morris won their respective majors.

Ko defeated a full field of 156 players, whereas Morris only needed to beat nine other players at Prestwick Golf Club for his princely cheque of £6.

There were murmurs of Evian Championship not exactly being a major, because the established norm is of having just four crème de la crème, historic and traditional events counting towards them.

First played in 1994 as a Ladies European Tour event, it was co-sanctioned by the LPGA in 2000 and the status was upgraded to a major in 2013. Whether it is the fifth major of the year, or the sixth, Ko’s achievement really should not be sullied for no fault of hers.

Her victory came against a quality field featuring the best lady golfers in the world.

And that final-round 63 of hers was as good as any unforgettable final-round in the history of majors – as good as Johnny Miller’s sparkling 63 to win the 1973 US Open, or Nick Faldo’s battling all-par 72 to win the 1987 Open at Muirfield.

Ko’s 63 was seven shots better than anyone else among the final 18 players on Sunday, and there was no signs of the famed pressure that is felt on the back nine of a major as she hit 17 greens in regulation in a bogey-free round that included five birdies on the last nine holes. It was a phenomenal display.

Can she come close to someone like Jack Nicklaus and Woods and their records of 18 and 14 majors? Or Annika Sorenstam’s 93 worldwide wins and 10 majors? Possibly, yes. But given the pressure that girls face in sport – early burnout and family priorities being the two main ones – the future is just too unpredictable to even hazard a guess as to where Ko will eventually end up in the hierarchy of greats when she finishes her career.

She has herself said she will probably play until the age of 30, which gives her another 12 years of top-flight golf.

But as for the best teenage golfer ever – no one can deny her that honour. She won her first LPGA Tour title at the age of 15, and the youngest winner on the PGA Tour was a ripe-old 19 years and four days by comparison (Harry Cooper, 1923 Galveston Open).

Jordan Spieth’s first win at the 2013 John Deere Classic was at 19 years and 11 months. Both Woods and McIlroy secured their first professional wins in their 20s.

Palmer’s greatest gift

Legend: Palmer.

Arnold ‘The King’ Palmer celebrated his birthday last Thursday, and being someone so deeply involved with the game, boy, I am grateful September 10, 1929 happened.

Obviously, there are many names in the history of the Royal & Ancient game that have contributed immensely towards making golf what it is today.

There was Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods…the list goes on.

But clearly, nobody comes close to Palmer and the amazing connection he has with the fans, and everybody involved with golf. So, if during the course of one of our interviews, Henrik Stenson thought he had me foxed when he asked out of the blue as to what I thought was Palmer’s greatest contribution, I had a list ready for him. But as I reeled off the reasons, Stenson kept saying no to each one of them, before I finally had to ask him for the answer.

His reply: “It’s the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Florida.” Stenson’s, and the children of many other golfers were born there, or at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.

The Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital has some of the most advanced technology to treat children with the most complicated of diseases. It’s consistently ranked among the Best Children’s Hospital in the US.

It remains something very close to Palmer’s heart. He funded the hospitals and still continues to be actively involved. He celebrated his 86th birthday hosting a charity event for the hospitals.

And don’t be surprised if on the eve of Christmas, Palmer once again dresses up as Santa Claus and does his round of the hospital.

Quote of the Week

“Can you imagine Miguel Angel Jimenez in Rio with a big, fat cigar, walking through the middle of the Olympic Village with all the athletes around?! I would love that.” – Who else but Jimenez himself on the prospect of playing the Olympics next year.

Stat of the Week

02 – Thomas Pieters of Belgium was second in driving distance (303 yards) and also second in Putts per Round (26.75) in winning the KLM Dutch Open. Proves that you can be a show and earn the dough at the same time.

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