By March she rose to the #3 women's world amateur
ranking. At this point, her rivalry with good friend Cecilia Cho
heated up. Ko claimed the Australian Stroke Play title by beating
Cho in a two hole playoff, but lost the Australian Amateur Match
Play in the quarterfinals.
Ko then won the New Zealand Stroke Play Championship,
beating Cho by 9 shots. This event set up the draw for the New Zealand
Match Play Championship, which once again ended up being a final
matchup between Cho and Ko. And once again, Ko triumphed, beating
her friend 4 and 3 in the final despite the fact Cho had won the
event the two previous years. This allowed Ko to rise to #1 in the
amateur rankings, knocking Cho down to #2. Ko became the first woman
to ever hold both the Australian and New Zealand Stroke Play titles
in the same year.
In May, Ko also won the Muriwai Ladies Open, beating
a field of pros and amateurs. She then launched her first effort
to play in the big European and American amateur events. She lost
early in the British Women's Amateur, but claimed the co-medalist
honors at the US Women's Amateur before falling in the second round
of match play.
Ko then had an operation to fix an ailing wrist,
and missed six weeks of action while she recovered. But in early
2012, it did not take her long to get back to her winning ways.
In January, she won the Australian Women's (Match Play) Amateur.
She is believed to be the first woman to EVER hold the Australian
Women's Match Play + Stroke Play titles and the New Zealand Amateur
Stroke play and Match Play titles all at the same time. That's an
extraordinary accomplishment for anyone, let alone a 14 year old.
And yet, Ko was just getting warmed up. The next
week, she attended the NSW Open on the ALPG. The previous year she
had come within one stroke of rewriting the record books when she
finished second here. This time, she left nothing to chance. In
the second round, she shot a blistering 64 to take a four shot lead.
In the final round, despite strenuous pressure from professional
Lindsey Wright, Ko never wavered, and won the tournament easily
by four. She thus became the youngest person to ever win a professional
golf event, anywhere in the world, breaking the record held by Ryo
Ishikawa of Japan, who was 15 when he won his first pro title. She
also crushed the women's record held by Amy Yang, who had won the
ANZ Ladies Masters as a 16 year old in 2006.
There had been only a couple of press people covering
the win, but as news of her achievement got out, Ko was swamped
with media attention. As it turned out, she was playing the very
next week at the RACV Australian Ladies Masters, as was another
teen superstar in the making, Alexis Thompson. Ko had never met
Thompson before, and the promoters wasted no time in pairing the
two for the first two rounds of the Masters. Ko's goal was to simply
make the cut, but she wound up in the top 20 most of the week before
fading a bit on Sunday to finish tied for 32nd. A week later, she
managed an 18th at the ISPS Handa Australian Women's Open, her first
ever LPGA event. She was also the low amateur at this event. It
was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Lydia Ko's summer of 2012 ranks as one of the most
amazing stretches of golf anyone has ever played. Simply put, she
put one remarkable performance after another together, culminating
in a record shattering appearance at the Women's Canadian Open in
The fun started when she traveled to the States
to play in her first Major, the US Women's Open. She had qualified
for the event by being the top amateur in the world, and for much
of the week, she was easily the top amateur in the field. She struggled
mightily on her final three holes and almost gave the low amateur
crown away, but she still held on, finishing tied for 39th.
Next she played at the US Girls Junior Championship.
She made it all the way to the semifinals, where she lost to American
Alison Lee. A few weeks after that she played at the US Women's
Amateur, arguably the most important amateur event in the women's
game. Lydia finished runner-up in the stroke play portion (Hyo Joo
Kim won that, but lost in the second round of Match Play). In Match
play, she worked her way through the field, meeting the second ranked
amateur in the world, Ariya Jutanugarn, in an epic semifinal clash.
Ko downed the Thai teen, then beat American Jaye Marie Green in
the final 2 and 1. Ko became the second youngest in history, behind
Korean American Kimberly Kim, to ever win this title. And amazingly,
she had an even bigger coup in store after that!
Two weeks after the Amateur win, Ko was in the field
at the LPGA's CN Canadian Women's Open in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Ko played well the first two days, hung tough through some dicey
play on Saturday, and found herself in the lead with 18 holes to
go. On Sunday, playing with Major winners Jiyai Shin and Stacey
Lewis, Ko dug deep, but still was caught by the turn. It was at
that point that she kicked into another gear, producing one of the
most dazzling displays of golfing excellence in LPGA history. She
put the hammer down, making four straight birdies to blow past the
field of Major winners and grab the historic three shot win. She
was the youngest player (by more than a year) to ever win an LPGA
event at just a little over fifteen years of age, shattering the
record by Lexi Thompson that had been set just the previous year.
She also became the first amateur in over forty years to win on
the LPGA tour, and just the fifth in history. The last amateur who
won, Joanne Carner, was nearly twice Ko's age when she did it. And
Ko beat a field containing almost all the best women's golfers in
the world. It was an insanely brilliant performance that catapulted
the teenager into the mainstream press. Golf Channel, not known
for in depth LPGA coverage, devoted the first 20 minutes of their
Golf Central show to Ko's triumph before they got to the PGA tour
The next month, Lydia played at her second LPGA
Major, the Ricoh Women's British Open. In the terrible weather at
Hoylake, Ko once again earned low amateur status, finishing tied
for 17th. She next showed up at the Women's World Amateur Team Championship,
also known as the Esprito Santo Cup, representing New Zealand. Although
Korea (headed by Hyo Joo Kim) won the team trophy, Ko won the individual
honors, dusting the rest of the field by six strokes.
Ko played in the Swinging Skirts event in Taiwan
at the end of the year. She finished tied for 26th. After Christmas
break, she returned to action at the Australian Women's Amateur,
where she was defending champion. But she bowed out early in match
play, and the event was won by Korean Australian star Minjee Lee
(who had won the US Girls Junior in 2012). The next week, she was
back to defend another title at the New South Wales Open. She gave
it a great effort, and found herself in a duel at the end with 2011
champion Caroline Hedwall and Minjee Lee. Ko made a masterful par
save on the 16th hole on Sunday, but made a fatal mistake off the
tee on 17, and Hedwall won the event with Ko finishing second and
Ko didn't have to wait long for another shot at
a pro trophy. Just two weeks later she was back in action at the
New Zealand Women's Open. She had come close to winning this event
several times, but neither she nor any New Zealander had ever taken
the title. But in 2013, Ko started well, finishing the first round
within a shot of the lead. She had a share of the round 2 lead with
Korean Seon Woo Bae, who shot a course record 64 just to catch her.
In the final round, Ko was severely challenged by several players,
losing the lead several times, but she hung tough, sinking a par
on the final hole for a one shot victory. This was her third pro
win in a little more than a year, and she was still not even 16
years old. Simply incredible! She also became the youngest winner
in the history of the Ladies European Tour, beating the record once
held by Korean Amy Yang.
The next week, Ko was back in action at the LPGA's
season opening event, the Australian Women's Open. Playing with
world #1 Ya Ni Tseng, she shot a mid-boggling 10 under par 63 in
the opening round. She contended for the rest of the week before
being beaten in the end by Korean superstar Jiyai Shin. Ko finished
third behind Tseng and Shin.
Ko had a great year playing LPGA events. She played
in all five Majors in 2013 and was low amateur in all but one. She
only contended at one of them, the Evian Championship, but there
she was in a dog fight the whole final round with Suzann Pettersen,
finishing second only to that Norwegian player in the end. The previous
month, she successfully defended her CN Canadian Women's Open win
of 2012, but on a completely different course. Once again she found
herself battling with Pettersen for the title, but unlike in France,
it was Ko who walked off with the win, in that case a five shot
By the time she finished second at the Evian, her
professional world ranking had risen to 4th, and she had left more
than a million dollars on the table. It was apparent she would soon
have to turn pro; she had not played an amateur event since January.
She did just that in October, announcing her new status via a You
Tube video. Soon after that, the LPGA accepted her petition to waive
the 18 year old age limit for Ko, allowing her to join the tour
in 2014 as a 16-year-old rookie. Not too long after that, the endorsement
deals started rolling in, including one for ANZ Bank and another
rumored one with Calloway Golf. Ko also controversially left her
longtime coach Guy Wilson to go with David Leadbetter. Whether that
was a wise move will remain to be seen.
Meanwhile, it did not take Ko long to establish
herself as a pro. Her first event was the CME TitleHolders, where
she finished 21st. But her next try came in December at the Swinging
Skirts. Paired with world #1 Inbee Park and world #5 So Yeon Ryu
in the final group, she outplayed them both to take the trophy,
with Ryu second and Park third. It was her first win as a pro and
fifth professional title overall.
To no one's surprise, Lydia had a fantastic rookie
debut on the LPGA tour. 2014 actually started with a surprise loss
to Mi Hyang Lee at the New Zealand Women's Open (not an LPGA event).
Ko started her LPGA career not long after that., notching two top
tens and two top 20s in her first four events. She nearly won the
Founders Cup, her 5th event, but didn't have to wait much longer
before getting her first win as an LPGA member at the Swinging Skirts
(an event she also won when it was in Taiwan; but now it was in
San Francisco and an official LPGA event).
A few months after that she won the Marathon Classic,
but her biggest win came at the end of the year when she captured
the CME Group Tour Championship in a playoff. That win was worth
$1.5 million, because she not only won the $500K first prize but
also the bonus for getting the most points in the CME competition
throughout the year, worth a cool million (unofficial) dollars.
Needless to say, Ko easily won the Rookie of the
Year award. She finished the year slightly ahead of Stacy Lewis
as the #2 golfer in the world. She made over $2 million on the LPGA
(the most ever made by a rookie), notched three wins and 15 top
tens, and nearly broke 70 in scoring average. Altogether amazing!
And she still has not missed a cut in any pro event ever, which
is insanely consistent.
Ko had an even more amazing second season on the
LPGA than her rookie year. She won five tournaments during the year,
including the final Major, the Evian Championship. Her win there,
by shooting a final round 63, made her the youngest woman to ever
win a Major on the LPGA tour. She also became the youngest to ascend
to the number one ranking, a spot she held at two different times
in 2015. Her money total, over $2.8 million, is the highest money
total ever won in a single season by a Korean born golfer. She thus
became the youngest player to ever lead the LPGA money list.
Ko also managed to edge out Inbee Park by two points
to capture the Player of the Year, again making her the youngest
to get that award. It was close; Park held the lead much of the
year. Then, Ko went on a late season tear, winning the Canadian
Women's Open in a playoff (her third win at that event, and second
in Vancouver). She followed that with the Evian win in her next
start, barely missed winning in Malaysia, finished tied for 4th
in Korea at the Hana Bank, then won the Fubon in Taiwan. But Inbee
struck back, winning the Ochoa Invitational to move to within three
Player of the Year points of Ko. Ko finished behind Park at the
final event of the year, but close enough to maintain her lead and
win the Player of the Year.
Ko also finished second to Park in the scoring average,
thus just missing adding the Vare Trophy to her haul. Again, it
was thanks to Inbee's last two events that she was able to top KO
in that category. She also won the million dollar bonus at the CME
Group Tour Championship.
Ko also won the New Zealand Women's Open, an LET
event, early in the year.
Ko had another phenomenal season in 2016, although
she ended the year with an unusually weak stretch of golf that saw
her revising her approach for 2017. She spent the entire year at
#1, and once her chief rival Inbee Park was hit with multiple injuries,
no one seriously threatened her throne all year.
Ko started the year on an absolute roll. She notched
top threes in three of her first four starts and won the Women's
New Zealand Open on the LET. She then won the Kia Classic and followed
that up with another win at the ANA Inspiration for her second straight
Major victory. That one was close all day, as both she and In Gee
Chun were not playing well but still managing to save par after
par. Ariya Jutanugarn took the lead and looked poised to win when
she dumped her drive on the final hole into the water. A few minutes
later, Ko hit her third shot right next to the hole and tapped in
for birdie, claiming a one shot win over Chun and Jutanugarn.
Lydia had a mediocre run the next couple of months,
while Ariya won three straight in May. They reached the year's second
Major, the KPMG, with Ariya looking to make it four straight, while
Ko looked to win her third Major in a row. It all came down to the
final few holes. Ariya fell just short, and Ko missed a crucial
short birdie on 17, which forced her into a playoff with Brooke
Henderson. Henderson hit a great approach on the playoff hole and
won her first Major, while Ko had to settle for second.
Ko wasn't done winning, though. She grabbed two
more titles in Arkansas and Ohio. She also was in great position
to win the US Women's Open, taking a third round lead. But she made
a major mistake on the ninth hole and fell to a tie for third. Still,
her three great 2016 Majors insured she would win the Annika Award
for best record in the Majors for 2016.
Ko struggled at the Women's British Open, but that
proved to be a temporary setback. She played great at the Olympics
shortly thereafter, and was in the final group on Sunday with old
rival Inbee. But Park was unstoppable, and Ko had to settle for
the silver medal.
Entering the year's final Major, the Evian, Ko was
in the lead in all the major LPGA award categories: money list,
Player of the Year, scoring average. But at that point, she began
to struggle. Not only did she not win again in 2016, she would only
make one top ten, and that was a tenth place finish. Jutanugarn
would win Player of the Year and win the money list title, while
In Gee Chun managed to beat Ko on the final hole of the year to
capture the Vare Trophy. Ko responded by firing her caddie and coach
and changing clubs for 2017. It remains to be seen whether her slight
slump is a sign of a more serious problem, or if she will return
to her usual form fairly soon in 2017.