By: Lewine Mair

David Leadbetter, than whom no man knows more about the women’s game, believes that the 17-year-old Lydia Ko is entirely capable of winning a major championship this summer.

He notes that if she is to win one before she turns 18, it would have to be the All-Nippon Airways championship, formerly the Kraft Nabisco, which is to be played in Palm Springs the first week in April. It would not surprise him were that to come about, though this legendary coach suspects that his pupil’s best chance would be in the US Open.

“Lydia,” he says, “has the right kind of patient approach for a US Open. Also, her short game is definitely up to the task.”

There are plenty of Korean families who will give their daughters a couple of lessons to see if they have any kind of aptitude for the game. If the teacher can see something there (other, that is, than a handsome weekly payment) the chances are that the parents will straightaway be viewing the sport more as a career-opportunity than as a light-hearted pastime.

None of the above applied with Lydia. A favourite aunt gave the then five-year-old child a set of plastic clubs after the family had moved to New Zealand and things took off from there.

You ask Lydia Ko’s mother for her views on why her daughter is such a golfing sensation and she does not begin to put it down to good golfing genes. In fact, she laughingly reports that she and Lydia’s father knew nothing of golf before the arrival of those plastic clubs.

Yet she hazards that it doesn’t seem to do any harm to be Korean. She has seen a lot of Korean golfers while accompanying Lydia on her travels and she is convinced that most Koreans are cut out for the job. “They are not too coltish and their bodies are less likely to be at war with their swings,” she suggests.

Others, of course, will point to how the Korean work ethic is enough in itself to make a keen or obedient youngster shine. In which connection, who will forget what that former Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, Jiyai Shin, once said when asked what she thought about Laura Davies’s modus operandi, with specific reference to how she only practises when she feels like it. “It’s as well for Laura,” giggled Shin, “that she wasn’t born in Korea.”

Ko was already practising for 35 hours a week in her amateur days. “I have to work hard, which can be very boring, but the end result makes me smile,” is how she put it a couple of years ago and how she still feels today.

It must make her mother smile as well. Every time Lydia makes a fresh ton of money (she picked up a million dollars at the end of last year) she talks of how she is off to buy Tina a new designer handbag.

Leadbetter, mind you, has often worried about Lydia’s work-rate. Last summer, for instance, he was keen that she should ease up a tad lest she come by a couple of the kind of injuries which punctuated Michelle Wie’s career.

Lydia will have listened to Wie on the subject, just as she wasted no time in quizzing the reigning US Open champion on how she should proceed with her golfing career. Should she do as she did in looking for a place at Stanford or should she switch straight from the amateur ranks to the professional scene.

Those who know Ko well say that she could very easily have mirrored Wie in that her high school marks were pretty remarkable for one who was spending more and more weeks away on the amateur golf trail. (Lydia herself tells the story of how she missed so much school that there came a day when the teacher had automatically muttered, “Lydia won’t be here”, before Lydia protested that she was sitting firmly at her desk.)

The above is an extract from Lewine Mair’s interview with Lydia Ko in the March/April issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale Friday 6 February.

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Photograph: Getty Images


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