My Shot: Lydia Ko
She's only 16, but Lydia Ko can dish on diet, dogs, bungee jumping, fighting golf's temptations, and why she hopes to become a random angel
SOMETIMES I'll be out somewhere and notice someone staring at me, as though I'm familiar but they can't quite place me. Out of the corner of my eye, I'll see them strain to attach a name to the face, like they aren't quite positive it's me. I can see them thinking, Could that be Lydia Ko? It's a bit weird, because for most of my life no one has looked at me for more than a second or two. I'm not famous enough for people to recognize me instantly, especially outside New Zealand.
WHEN I LAUGH after making a bogey, it's not because I think bogeys are funny. What I'm laughing at is how clumsy I was to hit a shot that led to the bogey. You can get angry at yourself for making silly mistakes, or you can laugh. Laughing is better.
MY LIFESTYLE isn't very glamorous. On weekdays I'm up at 5:30 a.m. After school I head immediately to the golf course. The work I do there is intense. It's how I've become a good player. I get home at about 8 p.m. There's just time enough to eat, prepare my schoolwork for the next day, then go to bed. The good part is, I don't have to do chores. Washing dishes, cleaning and cooking are not my responsibilities. I could do these things, but if you were me, would you take away six hours of golf practice each week in exchange for doing chores? As a family, we've decided the answer to that is a firm "no."
I'M A "SE RI KID." Before we moved to New Zealand from Korea when I was 6, my father took me to a golf tournament in Seoul. Se Ri Pak was already a legend, and we followed her. I thought it was the most amazing thing, the way she made the golf ball fly, and how the people adored her. There are many thousands of Se Ri kids in Korea, most of them older than me, who took up the game because of her. I think even the good Korean men—K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang, for example—were Se Ri kids in a way, because she elevated the sport so much.
IN KOREA it's called unni. It's what a girl calls an older girl who is special to her. For someone to be an unni, they must be someone you look up to and have a lot of respect for, almost like an older sister. Michelle Wie is probably my best unni, though I also refer to Christina Kim, Jane Park and Danielle Kang that way. Because I'm so young, I'm not unni to anyone. I'm just Lydia.
NEITHER OF MY PARENTS plays golf. When I was 5, my aunt bought me a 7-iron and putter. I would swing them, for fun. My first memory of actually hitting balls was on Jeju Island, a province of South Korea. My father took me to the range of a course there. People stopped to watch. They said, "You're good. You're very good." I thought, Well then, I must be good. My father doesn't play golf, but he noticed the comments. He began training me. He doesn't know about the golf swing, but he had played tennis and knows how to train an athlete. Even today he lays out balls at different distances in situations he senses are challenging.
MY PLAN has always been to attend college and play professionally at the same time. Where I go to college, I'm not sure. It might be in Korea, it might be in America. As a career, I'm thinking of photography. I'm always aware of my surroundings and try to look at things with an artistic eye. But there are so many routes. My mother majored in English, my father majored in P.E., and my older sister, Sura, majored in architecture.
NEW ZEALAND is very relaxed. It's a place where people take their time. If you're used to getting a hamburger in 10 minutes, when you come to New Zealand you should be prepared to wait 20 minutes. Our people are not lazy, we just don't see the need to be rushed. It's a better way to live. When I visit a crowded city, I get a headache. My instinct tells me to get to somewhere quiet.
SO MANY CHARITIES are highly visible. Famous people are tied to them, so you know both the charity and the identity of the famous person. These are wonderful, and I'm an ambassador for ROMAC [Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children], a charity in New Zealand. But I also fantasize about helping people randomly. I dream of coming across someone in need, someone I've never met and who has never met me, and helping that person. Something sudden and anonymous, as though I were an angel. Can you imagine desperately needing help, and seeing it come out of nowhere like that?
AT MY FIRST U.S. Women's Open, in 2012, I was so nervous I couldn't line my ball up to putt on the first hole. There's another kind of nervous, the kind you feel when you meet a famous person. One of our coaches from the Institute of Golf in New Zealand went to a tournament in Melbourne and brought back a hat signed by Rickie Fowler. She gave it to a friend of mine, who got crazy excited. I didn't see what the excitement was about. But when I met Phil Mickelson last November, and he walked with me to his car and signed a flag for me, I understood. I acted at least as excited as she did.