Lydia Ko aiming to add Olympic gold to long list of achievements

World’s number one is already a double Major winner at just 18 years of age

From Leona Maguire's vantage point the career graph of Lydia Ko is one she would gladly follow. Like Maguire, Ko was the number one amateur in the world before she turned professional and started to consume tournaments, both tour events and Majors.

At an age where most teenage girls are planning their debs or knuckling down for final exams at secondary school, Ko at 17-years-old became the top ranked professional in the women’s game.

The teenage New Zealand player landed in Rio on Saturday for the first women's Olympic golf event that begins today with Maguire and Stephanie Meadows also in the field representing Ireland in an historic first.

Medal ceremony

But Ko is the golfer everyone will be watching and, like many of the male golfers who turned up, the Korean-born Ko is giddy with the prospect of an Olympic medal.


She rose early on Sunday to get out on to the course and support the New Zealand pair of Danny Lee, who played his first round with Pádraig Harrington and Ryan Fox.

She then played six holes and watched the medal ceremony and England's Justin Rose taking away the gold.

After asking to have her photograph taken with Rose, she was, she said excited about the prospect of playing in Rio ever since it was announced that it would become part of the roster in 2009.

She was 11-years-old at the time of the announcement and yet she was a good enough player at that age to set her sights on an event six years ahead.

"I couldn't see the finish but I could hear how excited the fans were getting and when I was finishing I could see all of the medalists – Matt Kuchar, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose – and to be able to take a photo with the medalists was very special," said Ko, speaking about the end of her practice round in Rio.

She is the top-ranked player in the field and the favourite to win this week’s event.

It may be because of her youth but the world number one holds her weighty position at the top of the golf food chain with an unusual lightness that befits a teenager and while the word ‘phenom’ has been over used in past years, in Ko’s case it is entirely appropriate.

She is a phenomenal golfer in any sense of the word and has shot a blazing trail through the game since she won her first tour event as a 14-year-old in 2012. That made her the youngest player to win a professional golf tournament.

She etched her name into the record books again this year with a dramatic victory and second Major championship title at the ANA Inspiration.

Ko birdied the 72nd hole to get to 12-under par and finished one shot ahead of Charley Hull and In Gee Chun. Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, who looked like she had the win locked up with three holes to play, made bogey on those holes to finish fourth at 10-under par.

With that win, Ko became the youngest two-time Major winner in LPGA history at 18 years 11 months and nine days old and the youngest male or female with two major wins since Young Tom Morris in 1869.

Aged 15 years and four months she became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event when she claimed the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open. She broke Lexi Thompson’s record by 15 months.

Her wins on the LPGA Tour currently stands at 14.

This week she is set to solidify her position as a top female golfer and if she can win any shade of medal will create another piece of history as the first female player to do so.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times