17 Sep 2015

Lydia Ko: the greatest golfer in history?

5:48 am on 17 September 2015

Statistics suggest that Lydia Ko, an 18-year-old from the North Shore, is on the brink of becoming something truly extraordinary.

Lydia Ko with her trophy after winning the Evian Championship on September 13, 2015 in the French Alps town of Evian-les-Bains.

Lydia Ko after winning the Evian Championship. Photo: AFP

We already know what she's capable of, though today's win at the fifth major of the year, the Evian Championsip, just highlighted her continued growth in the highly competitive world of golf.

She is only the third New Zealander to win a major, following in the footsteps of Sir Bob Charles' breakthrough at the 1963 Open Championship and Michael Campbell's 2005 US Open Championship.

For over a decade from the late 90s until the late 00s, just one name dominated the game - Tiger Woods.

But now is the era of Lydia Ko.

While men's golf has its own young prodigy in Jordan Speith, I have no doubt Lydia Ko will not only eclipse him, but may yet blow the likes of Tiger, Rory and Jordan into the backpages of golf's history books.

At just 15 years old, Lydia had already claimed her first win on a professional tournament at the Canadian Open in 2012.

And the youngest age of a male golfer on the PGA Tour? You have to go back nearly a century to 1923, when young Harry 'Lighthorse' Cooper won the Galveston Open at the age of 19 years and eight months.

In today's era, Jordan Speith is the youngest, winning the John Deere Classic in 2013 at the age of 19 years and 11 months.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were both in their 20s when they claimed their first wins on the PGA Tour.

Lydia Ko at the Canadian Open

Lydia Ko at the Canadian Open Photo: AFP

In the majors, arguably the greatest golfer of all time in both the men's and women's game, Jack Nicklaus, won his first major at the age of 22: even against the Golden Bear, Ko comes up trumps.

Although Lydia can't claim the title of the youngest ever winner of a major, with that honour belonging to Young Tom Morris at the age of 17 back in 1868, she is still easily the youngest in the modern era.

Former PGA Tour professional and one of New Zealand's best golfers Phil Tataurangi said it was hard to know if Ko would surpass the likes of Woods but he believed she's on the right track.

He said Woods had a lot of followers when he came on to the scene due to his heritage, and how being an African American broke down certain barriers in golf, but Tataurangi said Lydia's own story was starting to attract the attention of the world media.

"They (the media) are really starting to fall in love with the brand 'Lydia Ko', in that she's just so very personable," Tataurangi said.

When you compare Lydia's achievements to the fellow women of the LPGA, she is completely dominating the game for her age.

She already has 13 professional wins to her name. In comparison, the greatest women's golfer and one of Lydia's idols, Annika Sorenstam, hadn't even won her first professional tournament until she was 24.

Sorenstam went on to win 93 tournaments during her 16 years as a professional and could have won many more if she hadn't retired at the ripe old age of 38.

Of those 93 tournaments, 10 were majors, second only to American Mickey Wright, who won 13 majors.

Former Swedish professional golfer Annika Sorenstam.

Former Swedish professional golfer Annika Sorenstam. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

While Lydia only has one major to her name, considering her age, she appears to be well on her way to breaking more records.

Tautarangi believes Ko's infallible, composed maturity is capable of taking the women's game to new heights.

"At each new step she takes in her career, it doesn't seem to have fazed her - it's just another stepping stone along the way.

"And although this is a major milestone today, I don't expect there to be a new amount of pressure upon her shoulders as she goes forward," Tataurangi said.

But Ko's trajectory could be limited by her plans to retire at the age of 30, which may restrict the amount of titles she adds to her name.

And given the number of women on the LPGA Tour that suffer from burnout, Lydia and her management team will need to keep a close eye on her progression over the next few years.

But Tataurangi believes that's already caught Lydia's attention.

"She kind of uttered that maybe she's not around for a long time but a good time.

"I think keeping a healthy body, mind and, effectively, all the different influences that go into brand Lydia are going to be very key here, going forward."

With a strong head on her young shoulders and a management team keeping a close eye on her every move, Lydia is well on the way to the greatness she deserves.

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