PITTSFORD — The next big phenom in women’s golf did nothing to hurt her reputation Sunday.
Lydia Ko, a 16-year-old who already has two pro tour victories to her name, tied for the third lowest round of the day with a 3-under-par 69 and finished tied for 17th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Ko, South Korean born but a citizen of New Zealand, last year became the first amateur to win on the LPGA Tour in 43 years when she claimed the Canadian Open. She was 15 years and 4 months old at the time. This week’s event was her 16th pro tournament, and she has made the cut in all 16. It equaled her best finish ever in a major.
“I played some good golf out here,” Ko said. “It was one of the toughest golf courses I’ve ever played. I would have liked to finish at least even, but overall it’s not too bad.”
Ko was born 11 days after Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997. She was introduced to golf at age 5 by her aunt while on holiday in Australia. Her family moved to New Zealand a year later, and shortly afterward she started getting intensive training from the Institute of Golf in Auckland.
Ko practices 40 hours a week in addition to attending high school. She said she travels with her textbooks and her teachers send her assignments via email.
As a 13-year-old Ko finished second in an Australian pro tour event, and the next year she won it. Last August, she became the second-youngest golfer ever to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
She is a first-rate putter. The LPGA doesn’t list her in its statistical ranking but her averages for putts per round (28.38) and putts per greens in regulation hit (1.701) would lead all players on the tour.
“I didn’t make that many bogeys,” she said of her final round. “I made just one. It was pretty good. I had a really good putting round, I think. I missed two on the last couple holes but I can’t hole everything. I holed some really good par putts on the front nine.”
“She can get on a roll and make birdies,” said Tom Thorpe, her caddie this week. “She’s not afraid. She has a really nice stroke.”
Ko uses a boxing glove as a head cover for her driver because of the connection with her last name. (Knock out – get it?)
“People were there on the putting green with head covers, so I got it there,” she said, laughing. “It’s good to be on tour.”
For now, Ko says her plan is to enroll in college in 2014. She’d like to go to Stanford, like her idols Michelle Wie and Woods.
She gets to play in six tour events on sponsor exemptions, and she gets in a handful of others via various qualifying means. She will play in the LPGA event in Arkansas next week and the U.S. Open on Long Island the following week.
She will play in her second straight British Open in Scotland in early August and then defend her Canadian Open title in late August.
Sometime around then, she will take final exams for her junior year of high school.
There is no end in sight to the Asian dominance of women’s golf after a ninth straight major title won by an Asian. A slew of South Koreans threaten almost every major.
Besides winning her second straight major, champion Inbee Park of South Korea recorded her 17th straight top-30 finish in a major. She has finished in the top 10 in seven of the last eight and 11 of the last 14 majors. She turns 25 next month.
Four South Koreans tied for fifth – Jiyai Shin, Chella Choi, Sun Young Yoo and Amy Yang.
For Shin, it was her 10th top-10 finish in the last 19 majors. She has 11 tour wins and two majors, ranks ninth in the world and is just 25.
Yoo, Yang and Choi are less elite South Koreans, although Yoo won a major last year and Yang is ranked 19th in the world.
South Korean Na Yeon Choi, who tied for ninth, posted her ninth top 10 in the last 17 majors. She’s 25 and ranked fourth in the world.
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, holder of five major titles, finished tied for 19th.
Michelle Wie capped a good week with a final round 69. She finished tied for ninth. Wie putted better and drove the ball well. … Britain’s Laura Davies, 49, shot herself out of contention with a third-round 80. … American Lexi Thompson led the field in average driving distance, at 262.4 yards. She tied for 28th. … South Korea’s Mi Jung Hur had a 37th-place finish that was miraculous. She hit just 18 of 56 fairways, last in the field. Yet she finished third in putting.