For Lydia Ko, with success come questions
HOYLAKE, England -- Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko, winner of the recent Canadian Open, will be the center of attention once more as the Women's British Open starts Thursday at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The youngest LPGA winner ever, Ko was all smiles as she prepared to face off against a field that includes 21 major champions.
"I have had an amazing summer, and I feel it can only get better," she said.
Ko, who was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6, is not the only teenager in the field. For the moment, though, the spotlight is off America's 17-year-old Lexi Thompson -- the previous youngest winner at 16 last year -- and 16-year-old English sensation Charley Hull.
It is not too difficult to work out why players are getting better sooner. Where their predecessors tended to view high school as no less of a "must have" than good golfing basics, some of today's golfing families are paring down on non-golfing activities.
Ko practices 40 hours a week and misses several weeks of school each year. Thompson and Hull are home-schooled -- Thompson as she plays the LPGA Tour and Hull as she prepares to join the European circuit.
Fun seems to have been scaled back in tandem with the schooling. Though Michelle Wie, the teenage sensation of the early 2000s, used to socialize with schoolmates in Hawaii and has no shortage of friends from Stanford, Ko, Thompson and Hull seem to be a bit more engrossed in their golfing futures.
There is no doubt Ko is enjoying her on-course success, but when the question was posed whether she was missing out on teenage activities, she replied in the affirmative: "I'd love to go out on a Saturday night with my friends and watch a movie, but that happens really like once a year or a couple of times." Only when she had a wrist injury in 2011 did she taste a bit more of everyday life.
Though Ko has hazy plans to do as Wie did in going to Stanford, many think this engaging youngster could end up on the professional circuit at some point next year.
Annika Sorenstam, a winner of 10 majors who retired from golf in 2008, said that could be a mistake. "Not too many of those who start early stay good," she warned in a recent telephone conversation.
"When you're so young that you need an entourage, you're too young. You need to get older and wiser," she said.
"There are no prizes for being the youngest on tour. You want to enjoy your 'young' time. Once you turn professional, it's serious."
For the record, Sorenstam spent two years at college in Arizona before turning professional at 22.
Yet there are two young men on the European Tour in Italy's Matteo Manassero and England's Tom Lewis who believe if Ko is capable of winning a professional tournament, she is "tour ready."
"It is good to see young players doing well," said Manassero, who turned pro at 17 and is now 19 with two European Tour titles to his credit. "If you are that good and you desire to play on the biggest tour, that is all right. Much, though, will depend on whether you have the right personality.
"I didn't step on anyone's toes, and I am sure that Lydia will be the same. If I had acted like a pest it would have been bad, but from what I have seen, there is no downside. I didn't miss my childhood. I have old friends and I have made new friends on tour. You need them because you can't lead the lonely life," he said.
"Some people were against me turning professional when I was just coming up to 17, but my parents and my coach, Alberto Binaghi, all thought it was the right thing to do. We proved that it was, but we never said anything to anyone about proving them wrong."
Lewis, as a 20-year-old amateur in 2011, shot a 65 for a share of the first-round lead at the British Open. He turned pro later that year. Now 21, he won one title, in 2011, but has struggled since.
"It won't all be plain-sailing," he said of Ko. "The media will heap a lot of expectations on her, and she'll do the same to herself."
Long term, he said, "It's a great thing to have proved to yourself that you have what it takes to win, and Ko has got that knowledge under her belt sooner than any of us. Good luck to her."
From the start of this championship, the British golfing fraternity will start forging its own opinion as to whether it's too much, too soon for young Ko.