x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Golf being flooded by fountain of youth

Lydia Ko the latest precocious talent, but patience must be applied, too, warns John McAuley.

New Zealand's Lydia Ko won the Canadian Open on Sunday aged just 15. Harry How / Getty Images
New Zealand's Lydia Ko won the Canadian Open on Sunday aged just 15. Harry How / Getty Images

If you enjoy feeling particularly long in the tooth, or bereft of any real talent, consider Lydia Ko was not even born when Bill Clinton began his second term as president of the United States.

The South Korea-born New Zealander could have spent her infant months marvelling at the philanthropy of Princess Diana or Mother Teresa.

Or, to put in terms Ko would most relate, the 11th day of her life saw golf's newest superstar claim the first of 14 majors.

Ko, just 15 years later, is now being compared to Tiger Woods.

On Sunday, the teenager defeated the cream of the women's game by three shots to seal the Canadian Open and become the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history.

The record she trumped? Lexi Thompson, who at 16 emerged victorious from a Navistar LPGA Classic. Thompson, now the Dubai Ladies Masters champion as well, set it only 11 months ago.

Today's stars are getting younger and younger.

At 14, Ko won the New Zealand Stroke Play and Match Play Championships, together with an endorsement from Steve Williams, Woods's former caddie.

"She realistically could be the next Tiger Woods," he said this week.

In June, a 14-year-old Brooke Henderson won a Canadian Women's Tour event, eclipsing Ko's New South Wales Open victory in January to become the youngest winner on a professional tour.

The fountain of youth springs high on the men's circuit, too. Two months ago, Anthony Zhang, 14, was the youngest player to qualify for a US Open and soon found Beau Hossler, three years his senior, peering down at Woods and company from atop the Saturday leaderboard.

Matteo Manassero, an Abu Dhabi ambassador, won twice on the European Tour before his 18th birthday. Ryo Ishikawa was a champion in Japan at 15.

However, such precociousness requires patience. The struggling Michelle Wie, winner of the US Women's Amateur Public Links at 13, is a case in point.

Their achievements may be prodigious, but golf's bright young things remain children. "When I go back to New Zealand I actually have an external Cambridge [University] exam, so I'm going to be really studying a lot and putting golf at the back," Ko said on Sunday. "Yeah, I need to pass my exams and get good results for that." Feel old?

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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