Lydia Ko: Two majors by the age of 18
Eighteen years, 11 months and nine days.
That was the age of Lydia Ko when she became the youngest woman to win two golf majors.
Ko achieved the amazing feat in the ANA Inspiration at the Mission Hills Country Club in California last month, a few days short of her 19th birthday on April 24.
Her previous win in a major came at the previous major which was the Evian Championship in France last September. When Ko won that event she became the youngest woman to win a major. On that occasion she was aged 18 years, four months and 20 days.
Tom Morris junior remains the youngest person to win a major and the youngest to win two majors. Those wins were the British Opens in 1868 and 1869 when he was aged 17 and 18 but golf then was hardly the international game it is today.
Ko’s win in California was her 12th on the LPGA Tour and her second in a row, having won the Kia Classic the previous week. The winner’s purse in the ANA Inspiration was $US390,00 or $NZ568,000. It took her career earnings on the LPGA Tour to nearly $5.9 million or about $NZ8.6 million.
Ko looked headed for defeat in the ANA Inspiration when two shots behind Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand on the closing nine of the final round.
Ko held her nerve to finish with a birdie on the last hole while Jutanugarn bogeyed the last three holes to drop back to fourth.
Ko’s final round was a bogey-free three-under par 69. That underlined the consistency that has become Ko’s hallmark.
She was reluctant to compare his first major win with her second.
“It’s amazing. You know, you can’t really rank them,” said Ko after making a traditional jump into a course pond in celebration of victory.
“Every one of them is special, and every event is so different, so unique, and I think obviously winning this event is great, but obviously jumping into the Poppies Pond, that kind of tradition will definitely be one of the highlights of my career.
“But I’ve never really played well at this course before, so just to know that, hey, I can still play well at a course that I haven’t really played well before I think gives me the confidence.”
Ko started the day just one shot behind third-round leader Lexi Thompson and capitalised early on Thompson’s shaky start, making birdies on Nos five and eight to take the solo lead at 11-under par.
But a mid-round surge of three-consecutive birdies by Jutanugarn and a nine-hole streak with no birdies for Ko changed the momentum. Jutanugarn walked to the 16th tee with a two-shot lead but poor tee shots on both the 16th and 17th holes led to bogeys and dropped her to 11-under and into a tie with England’s Charley Hull, who was in the clubhouse, and Ko, who was on No 18.
Ko had made clutch par putts throughout the day but said her par putt on the 17th was the most crucial in her victory.
“Probably 17 because that’s when I first really got to see the scoreboard and where I was positioned, what I needed to do,” said Ko.
“Obviously making that putt on 11 and 13 was crucial, too, but just not knowing anything, I wanted to focus on my game and just what I could control, but on 17 I knew what I needed to do. Something like a miracle needed to happen, so I think 17 was probably the most crucial putt.”
Knowing she needed to birdie the last to have a chance at the outright victory, Ko stuck her third shot on the par-5, 18th to 16 inches to set her up for the go-ahead birdie and to finish at 12-under par. She said it might rank as one of the best shots of her career considering the circumstances.
“I mean it would be up there. Every shot is special in its own way, like every win is special, because every tournament is so different,” said Ko.
“But just playing the 72nd hole, birdieing the last hole, that’s always a good feeling. Obviously for that shot to mean so much that I would win the event, that makes it extra special. But I obviously laid up to the right number and hit it to the exactly right spot. But I thought it was going to be a little short, but with the greens firming up, it ended up being perfect.”
Jutanugarn hit another poor tee shot on the final hole, this one finding the water on the left side. The 20-year old bogeyed the final hole to drop to 10-under par.
Said Jutanugarn: “Actually it’s pretty good, just only the last three holes. I really get nervous, especially being my first time leading. Next time it’s going to be so much fun to be there, but I got a lot of experience from this week.”
Breaking another age record has become ho-hum business for Ko and she said the extra records are just the icing on top of the actual wins.
“To me it’s more special to have just won this event and to win a major,” said Ko.
“Obviously it makes it extra special that I’m the youngest winner to win two majors, but just to win any event is special, and just to know that the hard work that you’ve put in as a team kind of paid off. All the stats and everything comes at the end. Just to embrace this win, I think that’s the special part, more than the youngest something.”