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Ko & New Zealand Revel in 'Significant' Win
In what her countrymen are calling the "most significant" event in New Zealand women's golf, Lydia Ko is basking in the glow that comes from being the youngest winner ever on the LPGA Tour. On Sunday, the 15-year-old amateur, who was born in South Korean but has lived in New Zealand for the past 10 years, closed with a 5-under 67 at Vancouver Golf Club to win the Canadian Women's Open by three strokes.
The victory by the top-ranked female amateur in the world - who also won the U.S. Women's Amateur two weeks ago - against a too-flight field of touring professionals got the attention of the folks back home. "No New Zealand woman has ever won on the LPGA Tour before and in terms of significant golfing achievements this is probably the most significant by a New Zealand female golfer," New Zealand Golf (NZG) chief executive Dean Murphy told Reuters in a telephone interview from Auckland.
"It's not unexpected, but she does just dazzle us every time she plays. To win on the LPGA Tour, against a quality field, is just a stunning achievement. We are so delighted."
Murphy expects Ko's remarkable achievement to give a big boost to the junior golfers in his country. "This should be an enormous story. It should do wonders for golf for the profile, and to encourage young girls into golf," Murphy added. "They have seen what Lydia has done and (to think that) any Kiwi girl can do that is inspiring. But this is a very big deal for us and should do wonders for the profile of golf."
Murphy confirmed to Reuters that Ko, despite her quick success, has no plans to turn pro. Indeed, she may follow in the footsteps of earlier teenage phenoms Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie and attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
"She has got a very solid plan. She wants to keep developing. Keep being a 15-year-old and in a couple of years' time the pathway will wend its way to professionalism," Murphy told Reuters' reporter Greg Stuchbury.
"She is very set in what she wants to do and we're right there to support her. The idea is to get her to play as many professional events as she can (about seven to 10 a year) and get as much experience so when she does turn professional in a couple of years she is ready to go. But she is (already) clearly performing on a very high level and we have just got to keep that growth going in the lead up to her turning professional."
After accepting the hardware for her Canadian Women's Open title - because of Ko's amateur status, second-place finisher Inbee Park took home the $300,000 winner's share, Ko met with reporters and discussed her historic win.
And it was truly historic; she became the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history, supplanting Lexi Thompson - who won the Navistar LPGA Classic last September - by a margin of 16 months. She's the first amateur winner - and fifth overall - on the women's pro circuit since JoAnne Carner at the 1969 Burdine's Invitational. Ko is also the first amateur to win Canada's national golf championship for women.
Here's what the poised, well-spoken teenager had to tell the media Sunday evening.
MODERATOR: All right, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for your patience. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the 2012 CN Canadian Women's Open champion, Lydia Ko into the interview room.
LYDIA KO: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Today's a historic day on the LPGA. With your victory you become the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history by more than 16 months. Last year Lexi Thompson was the youngest winner in September at the Navistar LPGA Classic at the age of 16. You're 15. Tell us how it feels.
LYDIA KO: It feels amazing, and I broke the youngest record in January for the New South Wales Open and to break another record or being in the history, it's amazing, and it's always awesome to be able to play with the pros. Yeah, it's great to win, and the last few holes, it got a bit nerve-wracking, but Stacy Lewis after my birdie on 15 she said, you know, you can do it, and it was really great to have another player that I look up to giving me that much support. So it was really awesome.
MODERATOR: You're a very accomplished player at such a young age. You're the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champ. The CN Canadian Women's Open gave you a sponsor exemption this week. Did you ever think in your wildest dreams you would come here and beat 149 other players for the title?
LYDIA KO: No, not really. I won the New South Wales Open, and that was the only European Tour event, but LPGA Tour is where I want to turn professional and hopefully my career would direct that way. So I never knew I had it coming, and I was so happy to win the U.S. Amateur, to win this, I never think about it. I just wanted to make the cut. And when I saw that I was tied first after the second day, I was like, wow. I'm feeling really good. And yeah, kind of surprised to have two wins in such a short time.
MODERATOR: Today we got a call from the World Golf Hall of Fame asking for something, a memento from your round to put on display. How cool is that at the age of 15 you're going to have something on display next week in the World golf Hall of Fame?
LYDIA KO: It's amazing. It's something different from being a winner and to have something that you won or that you used to have on the history of the Wall of Fame. So that's great. I've always wanted to visit there and go there, but to have something that's mine to be up there is amazing, and you know, it doesn't come down or anything. So it'll always remain there, and it will be a good memory. It's been an awesome week, so it's been good news from the start.
MODERATOR: Well, now you'll have a reason to go visit and see your golf glove on display.
LYDIA KO: Yeah.
MODERATOR: We'll take questions now.
Q. Congratulations. You spoke earlier in the week about wanting to go to school, not sure about becoming a professional. And your world is going to change when you wake up tomorrow. It already has today. To rethink the possibility of turning pro either this year or next year because of your success, you play so many tournaments as it is. Are those thoughts going to change?
LYDIA KO: No, I don't think so. I don't think any of my plans will change. I'll still remain an amateur and then finish high school and then go to college in the States. I mean this is a great win, but I don't think this will affect me changing my roots to my career.
Q. Lydia, I was just curious, what item do you think you might like to donate to the World Golf Hall of Fame?
LYDIA KO: We decided to give my glove, my Srixon glove, and it will be placed up there along with the many great people the many things that the big names put up there.
Q. Just as a follow up question, if I may, I noticed you're wearing a red shirt. Do you always wear a red shirt in the final round of the tournament?
LYDIA KO: I don't know. I think I wore a red shirt on the last day of the U.S. Amateur as well, I think. And Under Armour pants. So yeah, my mom asked me this morning what do you want to wear, and I said, black pants. And she said, red top? And I was like, okay. She said, oh, you're going to look like Tiger Woods, because you know, he seems to do that as well. And red is a good color, and yesterday I wore gray/silver like on the top, and my aunt called and said, you look too dark. So I guess this is bright enough; right?
Q. So you don't wear red specifically because Tiger wears it?
LYDIA KO: No, not really. It's just another color.
Q. Lydia, can you talk a little bit about the start of your back nine? That seems to be where you won the tournament. Obviously you ran off that string of birdies. Have you played much better golf in a situation like that?
LYDIA KO: No. This week I made, I think on the first day like two birdies in a row, and then the second day three birdies in a row, and then yesterday I kind of separated birdies, and today I had four birdies in a row; and that makes a lot of difference. It gets you from 1 under to 5 under. And it's always good to have a birdie, but to follow it up is awesome. And my drives at the start of my round wasn't so good. I was pushing it to the right. So I wasn't that happy, but you know, on 9 I had a great drive and then I followed it up on 10. And it was a long drive and I got to get on the green in two, so fortunately I didn't have a pressure birdie putt. It was only a tap in.
Q. I wanted to ask one other question. Really big crowds out here this weekend and they really seemed to be supporting you in a big way. Did you feel that support when you were walking down the fairways here?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, definitely. Like I said in my other interviews, this is the biggest crowd I've ever played in, and like on 18 just from the front of the tee, everyone to the back of the green. And it was a lot of people. And yeah, it's always good to people say "go Kiwi" or "go Lydia," and I'm not sure it was because I was leading at that point or something. But yeah, it was awesome to hear people cheering for you.
Q. I'm from Japan, and a lot of our players were having problems with the greens. Did you feel anything with the greens being difficult or anything like that?
LYDIA KO: No. I think those greens were good. Yeah. Obviously I didn't have much of a problem. But it was really helpful to have Brian Alexander who knew the greens really well. And there were putts where I wasn't so sure and he knew where to go. Yeah, I mean yesterday I had a little bit of trouble on the greens, but that happens. You don't always get four perfect days and four perfect days of golf.
Q. New Zealand being so close to Japan you don't have much of a time difference. Would you think about playing tournaments in Japan?
LYDIA KO: Yeah. I got a sponsor's exemption for one of the events in September, but I'm playing the World Amateur Championship in Turkey at a similar time, so unfortunately I won't be able to go to the event in Japan, but hopefully if I get time or, you know, if I am able to play a tournament in Japan, it would be awesome because I've never been to Japan all my life.
Q. Lydia, your association with Brian Alexander, your caddie, was exceptional. You couldn't have asked for a better individual to be your caddie. Do you plan to stay in touch?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, definitely. I stay in touch with all my caddies. It doesn't matter who. I stay in touch with my caddie from the U. S. Open, Doug Wilbur as well. So yeah, I mean you get quite a good bond when you're as a caddie and a player, and I've had quite a few caddies, and it's been awesome. And at the New South Wales Open, Steven, he knew the course really well as well. He had experience on the tour in caddying. And I guess Steven and Brian, they're both not related to me, but we got a really good bond, and I guess this will be good memories from this week.
Q. Aside from yourself, there were 12 ladies from South Korea. Did you have an opportunity at all this week to meet any of those others, talk to them, get to know them?
LYDIA KO: Well, I played with two other Korean professionals on the first two days, and I played with Chella Choi yesterday, and I played with Jiyai Shin today. So I played with a Korean the whole tournament, and yeah, I got a little chance to talk to them, and it was awesome, especially today with Jiyai Shin. She's one of the like Korean professionals I look up to, and she was awesome. Yeah, so it's always great that people that you look up to be nice and be supportive what you do, so it was really great and hopefully she enjoyed it as much as I did.
Q. Lydia, congratulations. That was fantastic. A couple of questions. Firstly, what were those red balls you were eating on the back nine that I saw?
LYDIA KO: Cherry tomatoes. I don't know if you guys call it differently.
Q. And secondly, you have the most beautiful swing, beautiful tempo, rhythm. But you have that move just at the end of the old pre shot routine where you swing the club more on a flat plane. Are you working on something in particular or are you conscious of technique, swing technique?
LYDIA KO: Yeah. A little bit. Most of the swing stuff needs to be done on the range, and you never know what's going to happen on the course. And you can't really go so technical on the course. At the start of this week, like before the tournament I was having a little trouble with my swing, and because my coach isn't here, he kind of helps me do everything. And it's hard to pick out what's wrong. So you know, Scott Rogers, who's a member of the PGA of Canada, and he came out and checked my swing, and you know, I was kind of going like this. So he said, you know, just follow through a bit, and it's a great swing. So you do wind up there and then your knee and your ankles, so I think that routine helps, and it gets you through the ball really well.
Q. Lydia, you're 15 years old. You've just beaten the best players in the world. Has it sunk in what you've just accomplished, and was there ever a point on the Back 9 where you're looking around going what the hell is going on here?
LYDIA KO: (Laughs). I don't know. Like the first time I looked at the leaderboard was on I think 17 or something. Maybe I had a peak or anything. But I kind of looked at it because I wanted to become more relaxed, and today I said I've got nothing to lose. I already got the leading amateur in my bag. And yeah, all I need to do is play my game, and my goal was 4 under, so I shot 5 under, even better. And yeah, it was really hard, and I actually purposely looked on 17 so I could see where I was positioned, and I saw there was actually like four, five shots gap, so I kind of tried to play the 18th quite relaxed, and everything went straight, but my adrenaline got to me and it went way past the green. And then I won. That's the most important part for me.
Q. Lydia, do you think I mean you're talented we saw your talent. Do you think you could have won this without Brian reading a lot of putts for you. You had Scott Rogers helping you with your swing a little bit. How important were they especially Brian and Scott?
LYDIA KO: I personally think no one can do I don't think this win is all about me. I think it's contributed to everyone. You just can't play. From the start you need you've got your coach, your mom, your parents, your support crew. You need all of them, you know. It makes a whole lot of difference, and I want to give my win to them as well. And yeah, it's something to celebrate. And yeah, I don't think I could have done it by myself, and at the start of the week my shots were a bit ugly, to be honest, and I wasn't happy at all. So to have Scott helping me, and today when I was nervous, Brian was confident about his reads. So it made my life a little more simple.
Q. You talked about how important it is for you to finish high school, and you seem like a very grounded person. How do you keep yourself grounded after all this success?
LYDIA KO: I don't know. Maybe it came from my mom or dad or something. But I just try to stay relaxed, and I'm No. 1 in the world as an amateur, but I really don't think about that. I just feel like I'm just an athlete playing or doing something that I really love.
Q. So what are you going to do to celebrate?
LYDIA KO: I'm going to Korea tomorrow. At the start of the week I wanted to go shopping actually. So shopping's gone. So maybe something fun. Maybe I didn't go and shop at the start of the week because I was ready for this. But yeah, I'll have dinner with Brian and Caroline and my mom and Joe and Brent who came all the way from New Zealand.
Q. Can you do the scorecard?
LYDIA KO: One was par. 2, birdie. 3.
MODERATOR: Say what happened. Do you remember it? Like 7 iron to ten feet, that kind of stuff.
LYDIA KO: Yeah. I'll try. It's going to be a long one. Like even the drives?
MODERATOR: No. For birdies just say what club you hit to the green and how far the putt was.
LYDIA KO: Do I need to talk about my pars?
LYDIA KO: My first birdie on 2, I hit 8 iron and it went to maybe two feet. So simple. And next birdie was 6. Like that hole, I just went right all the way. My drive went right. My second shot went right. But my third shot was good. And I hit a gap wedge from like 90 something yards. And I was in the right rough. And I had an eight yard putt, and it went in. And 7, once again, I made a bogey. It was a good shot, though, to the green, and I chipped it and it was a little sloppy. And I made two putts for a bogey. And 10, I got on the green for two, and I two putted from ten yards. And 11 I hit I don't know what club I hit. I don't know what club I hit on 11. But I hit it to maybe three yards, to nine feet.
And 12 I hit hybrid 22 and broke down, and I hit it to nine feet. Around nine feet, ten feet again. And 13 I hit driver, then 5 wood and I chipped it and I hit maybe six feet putt. And 15, I hit hybrid again, hybrid 22, and I had six feet putt for birdie. And bogey, 18 I hit hybrid 20 over the green and the chip wasn't so great and I two putted.
Q. You won the big tournament today. (Indiscernible).
LYDIA KO: No, not really. There's been times where I was really kind of disappointed with what I did, and I mean after so many experiences being able to play with the pros I enjoy really every moment of it. And as time went by, I realized, you know, you're never going to always win, you know. You're not ever not going to win, and you can't play good golf every single time. So there hasn't been a time where I wanted to quit golf. And I've been enjoying it for the last ten years and hope so for the next few years to come.
Q. Lydia, with your win here, you qualify for the CME Title Holders event for LPGA winners in November. Are you planning to go to that tournament? It's in Florida.
LYDIA KO: I didn't know that. I'm not sure. I mean like when I go back to New Zealand, which is like the 3rd of October, in two weeks I actually have an external Cambridge exam, so I'm going to be really studying a lot and put golf at the back. Yeah, I need to pass my exams and get good results for that. So I'm not sure. It just depends, and also, I need to go to school and stay in New Zealand sometime. And always November and December has always been my prep time for January, February and March because I do a lot of tournaments over in Australia.
Q. You said yesterday that even if you won this event, that the U.S. Amateur would mean more to you. How do you feel about it?
LYDIA KO: Yeah. I still think the U.S. Amateur means a lot, even though it's a great honor to win this. Yeah, the U.S. Amateur like I didn't cry after this one. But that one I did cry. And I think, yeah, to me, U.S. Amateur is a big event, and obviously this event is huge as well, but still, as an amateur winning one of the biggest amateur events, I feel like it was a better win, even though this was so awesome.
MODERATOR: Lydia, thank you so much for coming in. Congratulations.
LYDIA KO: Thank you very much.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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