In this, the week of the 14th Solheim Cup, women’s golf is dominated by a player who will not feature at the St Leon-Rot club in Germany.
Lydia Ko’s propensity to claim the spotlight was well known before she became the youngest major champion on Sunday but the nature of the 18-year-old’s triumph was notable – a final round of 63 at the Evian Championship afforded the New Zealander a six-shot success. She led by five on the 72nd tee before adding a birdie to stamp her superiority over the 20-year-old Lexi Thompson. It was Thompson who held the lead with the final round to play.
Ko was to shed uncharacteristic tears of joy, a nod to the pressure which had been on her to win at this level, even at such a young age. It is to her credit such attention has not negatively impacted on her golf.
If Ko was not recognised as a sporting phenomenon, she will be now; this victory was her ninth as a professional and fourth of 2015. All that had been missing was Ko’s first major victory, as inevitable as its arrival has been for some time. At 18 years, four months and 20 days, this was Ko’s moment.
“Winning at any age is amazing at a major and all players want to peak at their best at a major,” Ko said. “To say that I’m the youngest in history for now … it’s so cool. But the big thing for me is I won’t be asked that question [about an attempt to become the youngest winner in history]. Even if I didn’t win this one, I think I would have been really relieved because I’d be too old for it by the time of the ANA Inspiration [in April 2016]. It’s great, and it’s amazing that I can leave my name, I guess a little bit, in the history books.”
Ko’s progress is a nod to the enduring talent of her coach, David Leadbetter. In the 80s, he guided Nick Faldo towards a series of major wins. Three decades on, he has a new star pupil. Leadbetter, like golf itself, has moved with the times.
Leadbetter praised Ko’s temperament in the aftermath of her French procession. “It’s a great trait to have, she’s neither too far up nor down,” he said. “When she’s hitting the ball well I wouldn’t say she’s unbeatable but she’s always there.
“At the age of 18 it’s incredible what she’s done, and the potential for the future. The floodgates will really open now she’s won her first major. The confidence is there, she’s really ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck.”
The question of how deep-rooted Ko’s success can be is unavoidable. As a 15-year-old amateur, she won an LPGA Tour title. With another barrier broken down, there are unavoidable comparisons with a one-time teenage prodigy of the men’s game – Tiger Woods.
Ko’s targets are more simple. Should Olympic golf need the effusive backing of a blue-chip star, it need look no further. “One of my big goals is the Olympics,” she said. “It’s only around the corner. It’s less than a year from now. I think the first time it was announced, I was like: ‘Man, I really want to be playing in the Olympics.’
“Ever since it’s been announced, I’ve been super excited to play. To play for your country on the international stage, it’s an amazing experience, and I’ve met some Olympians; they say nothing is like it. I think that is one of my big goals. It’s always been my big goal.”
First, Ko can look on in relaxed mood as Europe and the USA do battle. “I’ve got a great three weeks off, so I’ll be going back to Orlando, taking a couple of days off,” she said. “This has been a busy week and I’m sure it will be for a week or so.
“But now I just kind of need to go back to square one, do my basic practices and work my way towards the Asia Swing [of the LPGA tour]. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a great couple weeks in Asia. I kind of have to think of this in the back of my mind, enjoy it, but also prepare for what’s coming up next.”
It isn’t just the brilliant Ko who is contemplating what the future has in store.