Before they were stars
Ever wondered what your favourite sportspeople were like before they were super-mega-famous? Every week Tokyo 2020 will give you a glimpse into what life was like for some of the world’s greatest athletes before they were stars.
- Name: Lydia Ko
- Age: 23
- Nationality: New Zealand
- Profession: Golfer
Long before she won Olympic silver in Golf's debut in Rio, Ko was already one of the game's hottest prospects.
What has she achieved?
Lydia Ko, fondly known as Lyds, was born in Republic of Korea, but soon moved to New Zealand with her family. Ko was introduced to golf at the age of five when her mother took her to a pro shop at a golf club.
From there, her exceptional career as a golfer began.
Even as an amateur, Ko was remarkable. In 2011, she became the first ever female to be awarded the Mark H. McCormack Medal, which is presented annually to the top-ranked male and female amateurs, and claimed it two more times in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, when she was only 15 years old, she became the youngest champion in both a professional tournament and an LPGA Tour event with her triumphs at the New South Wales Open and the Canadian Open. Ko’s success at the Canadian Open was the first amateur win at an LPGA event in 43 years.
Then in 2013, Ko turned professional after 130 weeks as the highest ranked female amateur golfer.
Ko also proved herself to be unstoppable on the professional stage, winning three LPGA tournaments in her first year and the award for LPGA Rookie of the Year. In February 2015, the then 17-year-old became the youngest top-ranked professional golfer - male or female. After winning four trophies in the same year, Ko finally claimed her first major win at the 2015 Evian Championship. She was named the LPGA Player of the Year in 2015 and became only the fourth person in LPGA history to be named the Player of the Year right after Rookie of the Year.
Heading into the 2016 Olympics, Ko’s excellent performances continued. Her second major win at the ANA Inspiration was particularly breathtaking as she made a dramatic turnaround in the final round and became the youngest person to claim two major trophies.
Following two more wins, Ko landed in Rio de Janeiro as a strong favourite. After failing to perform well in the first two rounds, she moved up to tie for second place in the third round, trailing Inbee Park by two shots.
The final round wasn’t easy for her and it seemed an Olympic medal would be beyond her reach, but by the 14th hole she had recovered to tie for third place. By this point, Ko was in a battle for the silver medal with People’s Republic of China’s FENG Shanshan, as Republic of Korea’s Inbee Park had already secured gold. Ko and Feng were tied going into the final round so the 18th hole would decide the colour of the medal they would take home. And while Feng missed the last birdie, Ko made a dramatic final birdie putt to become the Rio 2016 silver medallist.
Ko’s record as No. 1 is not limited to being the youngest ever top-ranked professional golfer. While Inbee Park took the top spot from her in June 2015, Ko reclaimed the position in October that year before staying at the top for 85 consecutive weeks. This feat is made even more remarkable by the fact that Ko missed multiple tournaments in 2017 and suffered a dip in form. Still, no other player was able to earn enough points to take No.1 status until June 2017.
Perhaps an even more interesting fact would be Ko’s first ever hole in one. Up until 2016, Ko had never shot a hole in one - not even during practice - but she did so on the greatest sporting stage of all: the Olympics. The fact that her first hole in one will always be that memorable 8th hole at the third round of Rio 2016 makes the achievement all the more special.
What is she up to now?
Ko has her mind set on Tokyo 2020, which would be her second Olympics.
Unfortunately, her performances after Rio 2016 have not been as remarkable as before. In 2017, Ko experienced her first season without winning a single trophy. Fast-forward to 2020 and she hasn’t won a single tournament since her triumph at the 2018 LPGA Mediheal Championship.
However, since the LPGA Tour resumed this summer, Ko seems to be recovering her best form, including when she finished second at the 2020 Marathon LPGA Classic.
Ko is currently ranked 39th in WWGR, higher than anyone from New Zealand, so it’s almost certain she will compete at Tokyo 2020.
“Everyone is definitely preparing themselves to make sure they are there. People try not to get too ahead of themselves, but the hype is building,” Ko told olympic.org, showing that her ambition to compete at the Olympics again has not dimmed.