Sports

Lydia Ko: Superstar role model today, retired at age 30

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, follows her shot from the second tee of the Lake Merced Golf Club during the third round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Daly City, Calif.
Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, follows her shot from the second tee of the Lake Merced Golf Club during the third round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Daly City, Calif. The Associated Press

It took Alexa Plano 17 hours to get to spend five minutes with one of her golfing idols.

Plano, 11, is no slouch in golf — she is the reigning national “Drive, Chip and Putt” girls champion for her age group.

As she took a seat Tuesday in the media center to listen to top-ranked Lydia Ko, she looked every bit her age — giddy and star-struck.

Soon after Ko finished, Plano walked up on stage to meet the Kiwi star, who is the favorite at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club.

“She is definitely an inspiration,” said Plano, who is from Lake Worth, Florida. “She says she tries to be an approachable person, and she has an amazing personality.”

After a few photos with Ko, Plano blushed.

“She is Lydia Ko,” Plano said. “There are no other words to describe her.”

Or just about every other word to describe this new virtuoso of women’s golf has already been exhausted.

But here’s the catch: See the two-time major winner now, because she does not plan on sticking around the sport all that much longer.

She already has a retirement age, in fact.

“Not 30s,” she said. “30.”

Of course, Ko just turned 19 last month, so her swan-song tour is 11 years away.

“It’s already my third year on (the LPGA) Tour. It’s gone by really fast,” Ko said. “In the back of my mind, I think when I get to 27, 28, I’m going to go, ‘Wow, in two years … I’ll reach my goal of retirement age.’

“But just because I’m going to retire from playing at that time, it doesn’t mean I’m going to go away from golf and not see golf ever again.”

If she sticks to that plan, Ko has a finite amount of time to accomplish the lofty goals she has set for herself — more major wins and lots of weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Look at what she has already accomplished. She has captured the past two major tournaments — the 2015 Evian Championship and the 2016 ANA Inspiration.

At last year’s Evian Championship, Ko became the youngest woman (18 years, 4 months, 20 days) to win a major, and she shot the lowest single-round score in women’s major championship history (a final-round 63).

Ko already has 17 professional wins, including 12 on the LPGA Tour. And she has made an astounding 75 cuts in 76 Tour starts.

“There’s not many bad things you can say about a girl that’s No. 1 in the world (who) is just absolutely killing us on the golf course,” American Gerina Piller said. “She’s just great for our Tour. It’s just impressive that she can come out here week in and week out and (perform well).

“I’m still working on my first win. Maybe it just comes easier for others.”

It is pretty obvious Ko has reached superstar status. She played her pro-am round Tuesday with former Mariners and future Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and KPMG chief executive officer John Veihmeyer.

Earlier this week, Ko joined actor Don Cheadle, his wife, Bridgid Coulter, and some of his friends for dinner in downtown Seattle.

Recently, Ko was named one of the 100 most famous athletes in the world by ESPN.

“It’s really cool to be in that position,” Ko said.

As the new face of women’s golf, Ko does limit her access to the public. You can’t just walk up to her and chat with her for 20 minutes.

But she says she aspires to be the best role model for younger players — like Pano, for example.

“Obviously I would love for somebody to say, ‘Hey, you played great today,’ or ‘Your putting was amazing,’ or whatever. But to me, the most favorite thing to hear is for a junior to come up and say, ‘Hey, you’re my role model, I want to be like you,’ ” Ko said.

“It pushes me to get better. And it makes me enjoy it more and more.”

Ko also is savvy enough to take a few jabs from LPGA Tour chief communications officer Kraig Kann, who sat with her during her a news conference Tuesday — and roll with them.

“Life moves quickly,” Kann said. “I want to focus on you at 30 in that rocking chair.”

“With a walking stick,” Ko added with a smile.

  Comments