New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko plays down pro hype
The 16-year-old sensation says her rookie season as a professional is a learning experience, as tour officials also temper soaring expectations
New Zealand phenomenon Lydia Ko, 16, said she was trying to put soaring expectations out of her mind as she makes the difficult adjustment to life as a professional golfer.
Ko excelled as an amateur to such an extent that her decision to turn professional in October, announced on YouTube, was generally welcomed, with the LPGA tour waiving its usual age requirement of 18.
But life on tour, with weekly tournaments and travel, and media and sponsor demands, is a very different proposition.
"It's kind of a learning year as it's my rookie year and I haven't played the majority of the courses and I've got to learn what it's like playing on the tour," she said at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.
"You just can't play well every week, every day," she added. "I wish I could but that doesn't really happen. Expectations are there, but I've just got to forget about it and just concentrate on my game."
Bespectacled, South Korean-born Ko is already ranked fourth in the world after winning four professional events as an amateur - including one at the record-breaking age of 14.
Rounds of 73 and 69 have left Ko in the hunt at this week's US$1.4 million HSBC Women's Champions, the high point of the LPGA's early season Asian swing.
Ko has also made big changes off the course, sacking her long-time coach - a move that fellow New Zealander Steve Williams, Tiger Woods' former caddie, called "unethical" - and signing with management giant IMG.
In Singapore, she appeared with a manager by her side and with her New Zealand accent mixed with strong hints of American, indicating how her life is quickly changing.
With hype swirling, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan attempted to ease the pressure on the teenager by saying "it's completely not important at all" that she excels in her first season.
"She's going to have a long golfing career, hopefully she's going to have a lot of great years. It doesn't have to happen in the first one," said Whan.
He said Ko would also go through the LPGA's "rookie orientation", which includes training in handling the challenges of television interviews, sponsor hospitality and pro-ams.
And Ko, who is still juggling schoolwork with her playing career, said she would play a restricted schedule this year rather than try to tackle the 30-plus tournaments on the LPGA tour.