By Beth Ann Baldry, Golfwee
French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born a genius; one becomes a genius.”
One could assume that Lydia Ko’s parents set out to raise an exceptional player when they moved the family from South Korea to New Zealand when Lydia was 6 and set up shop in a house across the street from Pupuke Golf Club in Auckland. Ko’s mother’s, Tina Hyon, wanted her daughter to have four one-hour lessons a week.
And so it began. Hyon couldn’t have guessed that Lydia would grow up to win two LPGA titles by age 16. She couldn’t know her child not only would have a game good enough to win early on tour but a mind strong enough to match it.
Yet here we are, a decade later, with Ko treading in uncharted waters. No amateur has enjoyed this much success on the LPGA at such a tender age. Four professional titles worldwide, including her own national open, and close to $1 million in LPGA earnings that went in others' bank accounts.
A decision loomed: Take the money or stay a kid?
Hyon told told Golf Channel on Wednesday that Ko would be playing in November’s season-ending CME Titleholders on Nov. 21-24 in Naples, Fla., as a professional, confirming the inevitable. She might even play the week before in Mexico at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
Ko had to petition the LPGA to join because she doesn’t meet the tour’s minimum age requirement of 18. That should be nothing more than a formality, however, as Ko’s two CN Canadian Women’s Open titles are more than enough to warrant the nod from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. There’s a precedent for someone that young: Lexi Thompson won at age 16 and got permission from Whan to join the tour soon after.
In a statement, the LPGA confirmed that the office had received Ko's petition and that Whan would review it upon returning from Asia, where the tour is playing this week in its second of five events on that continent. "The decision on the petition will be solely up to the commissioner’s discretion, and upon his review, he will communicate directly with Lydia and her family," the statement read. "The LPGA does not comment publicly on petitions as they are a private matter between the player and the commissioner.”
Of course, future World No. 1s Yani Tseng and Inbee Park had their requests denied by former commissioner Carolyn Bivens. Whan said no to Ariya Jutanugarn’s last year when she tried to play Q-School at age 17. She’s currently ranked 25th in the world despite being sidelined with an injury since June.
Ko has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the world is currently fifth. She finished runner-up to Suzann Pettersen at the Evian Championship, where she first hinted at turning professional.
When Ko won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the dream of playing college golf in the U.S. was very much alive. The next week, however, she won an LPGA event in Canada, and her college prospects have dwindled with each passing tournament.
“She should’ve turned pro a year ago!” wrote Cristie Kerr from Malaysia.
Like Kerr, Natalie Gulbis turned professional as a teenager. Gulbis said the tour would continue to embrace Ko once she she becomes a member.
“Lydia has done more than prove that she can compete out here,” Gulbis wrote in an email. “She really is a teenage phenom.”
Gulbis also noted that while her game was ready for the LPGA at age 19, she never realized how much more goes into being a professional.
Ko soon will learn more about pro-am parties and sponsorship commitments. She’ll be playing in an adult world, but, if she builds a solid team, she should find the transition manageable. She’s already called into media rooms on a regular basis and has played a professional’s schedule during the past year.
England’s Laura Davies had this to say about Ko turning pro last February while playing in New Zealand: “Strike while the iron is hot.”