Published January 13, 2015
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Picture, if you will, a female golfing phenom: an engaging teenager, of Korean descent, who has displayed prodigious talent and marketable charisma.
You'd think Michelle Wie, right? But this isn't the mid-2000s. Nowadays, Lydia Ko holds the distinction as the next big thing in the women's game.
On Tuesday, the 16-year-old Ko turned pro via YouTube, announcing her decision with a slick yet unassuming post. In the nearly five-minute video, Ko is goaded by fellow New Zealander and All Blacks rugby player Israel Dagg to turn pro while the two play a very casual round. In the end, after sinking a long putt, Ko quietly concedes "Ok. I'll do it." And with that, the announcement is made.
Ko is unlike Wie in that sense. She appears genuinely humble and reserved. While Wie reveled in the attention of her prodigal status, publicly speculating about a Masters berth and a potential victory over Tiger Woods, Ko plays it cool.
Wie could have played a pivotal role in the women's game, as a genuine star capable of on-course dominance and off-course ambassadorship. But she failed at the former, rendering the latter irrelevant. Women's golf could still use such a star. Inbee Park may get there through sheer mastery. She created a significant buzz by winning the season's first three majors, but she has cooled since, and so has the broader attention. Cheyenne Woods has the magnetism, and the famous last name, but not yet the game.
Ko is the best bet.
For one, she's a proven winner. Currently the fourth-ranked women's golfer in the world, Ko has never missed a cut in a professional tournament. She has already posted four victories in professional tournaments, becoming the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history at the Canadian Women's Open in 2012, then winning the event again a year later. Last month, she finished runner-up at the Evian Championship, the year's fifth and final major.
For another, she has a unique star quality; in that she is unique. She's soft spoken, yet calmly confident. She's cool without trying. She wears large, thick-rimmed glasses (with frames). She's like a young, authentic Kiwi hipster with none of the steampunk pretense. In a way, she's the anti-Wie. And it works.
Ko plans to play her first event as a professional in late November at the LPGA's CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla. She has filed a petition to bypass the tour's minimum age requirement of 18, leaving her immediate membership in the hands of commissioner Mike Whan.
There is precedent for early membership: as recently as two years ago Whan granted such an exemption to Lexi Thompson. Whan will likely not make his decision until the tour returns from its Asian swing in early November, but he'd be wise to at least grant Ko's request by the time the new season kicks off in January.
Ko is a promising future face of the LPGA Tour. She's a winner and she's effortless nerd cool, which translates to potential star.