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Ko Not a Dark Horse Anymore


For all the talk of Stacy Lewis and Yani Tseng vying for the top spot in women's golf, the player that everyone will be keeping tabs on this week in the Kraft Nabisco Championship is Lydia Ko.

And well they should. The 15-year-old, who was born in South Korea and has resided in New Zealand, where she took up golf at age five at Pupuke Golf Club on Auckland's north shore, got the world's attention when, as a 14-year-old in January 2012, she became the youngest player ever to win a professional event when she triumphed in the Australian Ladies Professional Tour's Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open by four strokes over Becky Morgan.

Though that record was broken last June after Brooke Henderson won on the Canadian Women's Tour, Ko stunned everyone last August by firing rounds of 68, 68, 72 and 67 to win the Canadian Women's Open by three shots over seasoned veteran Inbee Park and a host of other LPGA Tour players. As an amateur Ko - who became the youngest player ever to win an LPGA event - forfeited the winner's share of $300,000 to Park.

Ko is still an amateur - the top-ranked female amateur in the world in fact - and currently attends the Pinehurst School in Auckland.

The likeable teenager is in the States this week for the LPGA's first major of the season - the $2 million Kraft Nabisco Championship, which starts Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

On Wednesday, Ko met with the media to discuss her exploits and her chances this week against the world's best golfers. She also talked about when she'll turn pro and start taking home those paychecks. Here's what she had to say.

MODERATOR: Lydia Ko welcome to the press center here at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Thanks so much for being here this afternoon. I would like to welcome to our media center Lydia Ko. Great to have you here.I know you've had a busy few days already. What's this first ever trip to the Kraft Nabisco Championship been like thus far?

LYDIA KO: It's really good to be up here. I played the course a couple times and it's in really good form. Yeah, I mean, this tournament, it's a major and the world's greatest players are here. Very fortunate to be out here.

MODERATOR: I think there are a lot of players, some who have sat up here already, who already look at you as one of the best players and someone that they have to contend with. You get a lot of accolades from those players. How have you been dealing with that? Your name has come up quite a bit this year if you've been reading any media.

LYDIA KO: I haven't reading that much, but I've heard along the way. Yeah, I mean, I think everyone is being overly too nice. Yeah, I mean I look up to everyone out here. I think they're really great. Hopefully in my future I will be able to become like them. Yeah, they're being really nice, like what Yani said as well.

MODERATOR: What's the best experience thus far this week for you? What's stood out? If someone called you on the telephone and said, Lydia, what's it like? What would you tell them is the neatest thing that's happened so far this year?

LYDIA KO: I think because it's the first major of the year and I'm first time at the Kraft. One of the big things was when I was walking down the 18th, next to the green they have the plates of all the winners. I saw the scores and stuff. It goes back into history. Yeah, these were quite good memories.

MODERATOR: One last question from me: The victories that you've had, the professional tour victories as an amateur player, did you ever expect that would happen so quickly for you when you started teeing it up in those types of events.

LYDIA KO: No, not really, because my first professional win was at New South Wales Open, and I actually got a little bit of a taste what it could've been like the year before when I was going against Caroline Hedwell. I lost by one shot to her. I thought that was just a lucky week and I had played a really good three rounds. After that happened the year after I thought, Wow, may not have been luck the year before. It definitely came really fast. I was only 14 then. I don't think it has ever really sunk in properly.

MODERATOR: Just set the record straight, you didn't play a practice round this morning because you didn't want to get up at 5:00. Is that your story? You sticking with that?

LYDIA KO: Yeah.

MODERATOR: Would have been an early wake up call.

Q. Are you excited to play with Michelle the first few days? Nervous? Do you know her well? What's this pairing going to be like for you?

LYDIA KO: If it was my first time I would have been really nervous, but I will definitely be nervous as she is my idol. Luckily I've experienced playing with her and Yani at the Australian Open. Yeah, I got to know a little bit more about her. I think she's very good player, and I'm very excited to be able to play with her tomorrow.

Q. You know her history here?

LYDIA KO: Yeah. She was called "the genius" and everything. I've heard all her background and I know how good she is.

MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. You said you got a couple practice rounds.

LYDIA KO: Yeah, I did. I came last week, so . . .

Q. Just your general impression of the golf course, and how long does it take somebody to learn a golf course that they've never played before, especially one that can be this tough?

LYDIA KO: I saw the course, because normally when I guess it's in tournament condition and greens were running on an 11, something around that. I played with a couple of members and they said this is the best it's ever been. Obviously the course is at its best. It's quite tough, because there are a few fairways where it is quite narrow. But I guess everybody is playing the same course, really.

Q. Stacy said the other day in reference to you that ignorance is bliss. Like you don't realize how good you are sort of thing. Talk about what the game means to you and how you see your future and if you're grasping all this as it goes or if it's too hard to have a perspective yet?

LYDIA KO: Yeah, I mean, I think it's become more like fun and serious at the same time. I'm an amateur, you know, so money don't really matter like up here as much as the pros. One shot counts and stuff. Obviously I'm trying my best out here, but I've come here for experience. I think it's really fun, and I get to see a little bit of what being on tour is like as well. Yeah, it's been really fun to be able to play a couple of the tournaments.

MODERATOR: What's been the most difficult thing you've had to deal with all that's gone on over the last year in professional and amateur golf for you?

LYDIA KO: I think overall media. I'm in the media center right now and I'll have to be honest saying it is media.

MODERATOR: How so?

LYDIA KO: Like after every tournament, when I go back home, everybody wants a little bit from you. Before I had won the New South Wales and all that it was just maybe a couple questions before the tournament and that was really it. After it's like a pre and a post interview kind of stuff. Yeah, and before I would accept pretty much everything. I thought that's the way to go. I need to be nice. I can't do this person and not this person. But I've learnt that you can't really do everything. It's pretty hard to do.

MODERATOR: Has anybody given you advice on how to deal with that?

LYDIA KO: Not yet. Hopefully I'll be able to talk to a couple of pros as they have better experience.

Q. When you've come to play tournaments in the U.S. before, you made it kind of like an Odyssey. You visit a lot places. What's on the itinerary for this trip?

LYDIA KO: I'm not actually going back home after this tournament. I'm playing the Lotte in Hawaii, which is in two weeks. So I've got next week which is kind of a break week, and then I'm going to Hawaii early. Never been to Hawaii before. I'll enjoy some of the beaches and just have some fun. I don't get to go out that much when I'm at a tournament, so, yeah, it'll be good.

Q. What kind of family do you have with you this week?

LYDIA KO: Only my mom.

MODERATOR: Only your mom here?

LYDIA KO: Yes.

MODERATOR: You mentioned the experience here and wanting to come gain the experience. Do you have specific goals or just come out here and try to soak it all up?

LYDIA KO: Because I'm an amateur, my one big goal is to get the low end if I'm playing a pro tournament. Also the big thing is got to make the cut first and go from there. I'll make another goal after I play two rounds if I make the cut. I don't want to like to hurry anything before. I just want to take it really a step at a time.

Q. Just curious who your caddie is this week and when you met him?

LYDIA KO: He's Patrick (indiscernible). He's over there. He told me to say he's the best caddie. (Laughter.) That's what he said.

MODERATOR: We've got that on record.

LYDIA KO: I said those words. Yeah, I mean, I got introduced to him by another professional on the LPGA Tour. I've been walking around and other caddies have said, You've got a good person on your bag this week. Yeah, I'm very fortunate.

MODERATOR: And the jump into the pond, what would it look like?

LYDIA KO: I haven't really thought about it. It's next to the 18th green, and I went past and I was like, How deep is it? If I do go in will we hurt yourself? Because I heard Morgan's mom broke her ankle once or something.

MODERATOR: There have been some injuries, but it's all perfectly crystal clear water now. Probably could do a back flip if you wanted.

LYDIA KO: If I get to do the jump it'll be pretty amazing moment.

MODERATOR: Who would you bring in besides the best caddie in all of professional golf?

LYDIA KO: Probably my mom. We are actually staying with two people we met at the Canadian Open. They're Canadian Koreans and they have an apartment or a condominium at the island, so we're staying with them and they are going to watch the whole week. Hopefully they will jump in as well.

Q. Can you swim?

LYDIA KO: Well, I hope so. We'll see then.

Q. Do you have a plan as far as when you want to turn pro? Have you talked to other pros about who has done it early at a young age like you?

LYDIA KO: I couldn't really give a certain year of when I will turn pro. Yeah, we don't normally think about it when we go back home. The time I think about it is when I'm here getting asked the questions. My parents and I and my coaches, we have never really talked about it seriously. Yeah, couldn't really give a certain year.

MODERATOR: Can I follow that up? I'm curious, a lot of adults or people that cover professional sports for a living always talk about the next great this or that and they speculate. What is the perspective of somebody, yourself, a teenager, who people are talking about? Do you think people try to rush it too much? How do you feel about the whole conversation of when you should turn pro?

LYDIA KO: Yeah, I mean, I guess everybody has their own perspective. In the end of the day, it's going to be a decision made by my family and my coaching staff. Some people have said, Don't rush it; you've got plenty of time; you've got academics and stuff as well. Some people have said, No, you should go turn pro and make the most of it when you can. Like I said, we haven't really talked about it. We've got real no idea. I've been up here and seen a little bit of what tour is like. It seems really fun and I would like to be out here.

MODERATOR: Lydia Ko, thank you so much. Congratulations on being here. I hope you have a fantastic week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.