Altvater: Will Lydia Ko be the Tiger Woods of the LPGA Tour?Written by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
At just 17 years old, Lydia Ko is making quite a mark on the LPGA Tour. She won the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open as a 15-year-old amateur and proved it was no fluke by repeating the feat in 2013.
In addition, she won two other professional tournaments in Australia and New Zealand as a teenage amateur.
Since declaring her professional status last October, the LPGA Tour granted her membership. She won the Swinging Skirts Ladies Masters in Taiwan in December on the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Tour.
She just collected her first official win as an LPGA Tour member at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in San Francisco last Sunday.
Ko had risen to No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings while still an amateur and after her two latest wins as a professional is now the No. 2 ranked player in the world behind only Inbee Park.
To see a person realize such amazing success at such a young age reminds one of the rapid rise of Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour from 1996 to 2001.
Woods left Stanford University early to accept a $40 million endorsement deal with Nike and proceeded to win 29 regular season events including six majors in his first six years on tour.
Woods’ amazing record captured the imagination of even casual golf fans and encouraged a crossover from sports fans not usually interested in golf.
The LPGA Tour has had a wonderful cast of leading ladies in the past. Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa all were dominant in their eras.
Since Sorenstam and Ochoa retired from competitive golf to raise their families the LPGA Tour has been seeking the player who would become the new face of the tour.
Michelle Wie was predicted to be the next great star on the LPGA, but never attained the level of success everyone expected from her.
Yani Tseng won five major championships before the age of 26 and reached the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, but lost her tenacity. Doing her best David Duval imitation, she has not won since 2012 and has fallen to No. 50 in the world.
Lexi Thompson is two years older than Ko and may become her main rival in the years to come. She just won her first major championship at the Kraft Nabisco this year and has risen to No. 5 in the world rankings.
A rivalry featuring two young stars would be even better for the LPGA Tour than one dominant player.
Ko plays with the calm demeanor and quiet confidence of an assassin on the golf course. There does not seem to be a weak spot in her game. She will not beat herself and other players feel her presence on the leaderboard.
Commissioner Michael Whan has proven he knows how to run a business and wasted no time in accepting Ko’s petition to join the tour. He knew the attention she would garner and was confident the young woman could handle the rigors of life on tour.
Ko appears to be well-grounded and has moved to the U.S. to better travel the tour.
If she continues to collect wins and top-10 finishes, golf fans will take notice and the LPGA Tour will benefit from the additional attention.
Whan and his staff have done a magnificent job of growing the LPGA Tour over the past few years, but a dominant young star that can attract a wider audience is the one piece that has been missing.
Just ask PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem how important a young photogenic and charismatic star like Tiger Woods can be to a golf tour.
Since Woods joined the tour in 1996 the schedule has been full and has even expanded to a year-long wrap-around schedule to accommodate the corporations that wanted to sponsor PGA Tour events.
Total purse sizes have increased from an average of $1 million in 1996 to $6 million for a regular tour event. The PGA Championship and the Players Championship are even offering purses totaling $10 million this year.
There is a large group of young talent on the LPGA Tour, but Ko seems to be at the head of the class.
Future growth of the LPGA Tour could rest on her young shoulders.
Tags: Annika Sorenstam, Babe Zaharias, Fred Altvater, Kathy Whitworth, Lexi Thompson, Lorena Ochoa, LPGA Tour, Lydia Ko, Michael Whan, Michelle Wie, Nancy Lopez, Patty Berg, The Back Nine, Tiger Woods, Tim Finchem, Yani Tseng