NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko’s hands weren’t shaking.
Her knees weren’t wobbly.
The 16-year-old from New Zealand didn’t seem fazed standing over her first tee shot as a pro Thursday in the start of the CME Group Titleholders at Tiburon.
That impressed Michelle Wie.
Playing alongside Ko, Wie’s mind raced back to her own debut as a pro at the Samsung World Championship eight years ago. Wie was 15.
“I remember my first shot,” Wie said. “I was actually telling Lydia about it as we were walking. I remember at Bighorn at the first hole, it was uphill. I hit my 3-wood, and I remember hitting it just a little bit thin, and I was just shaking. I was so nervous. I remember hitting the first fairway and just throwing my hands up in the air, I was so happy.
“Lydia looked calm, a lot calmer than I looked.”
Pro debuts are unpredictable experiences. Wie left hers with a sour taste in her mouth. She was disqualified in the Sunday finish at Bighorn after it was deemed she took an illegal drop during the third round.
Ko striped her first tee shot at Tiburon into the fairway, but she didn’t look comfortable early in her debut, even though she said she felt surprisingly at ease grinding out a 1-under-par 71.
She’s tied for 30th.
“It didn’t feel too odd or special,” Ko said. “That actually surprised me. I thought I was going to be nervous.”
Ko missed good birdie chances at the first and second holes, missing putts from 5 and 10 feet.
And then she uncharacteristically made a mess of the third hole, making her first double bogey as a pro before making her first birdie. She hooked her tee shot into the trees and onto pine straw. From there, she hooked her second shot, a 7-iron, through some more trees, her ball squirting out onto coquina in a sandy waste area.
“I was trying to hook it [around the trees], but I think I was too ambitious,” Ko said.
Ko chunked her third shot, unable to get it out of the waste area. Then she clumsily knocked her fourth well past the hole. She two-putted for 6.
Ko made another bogey at the seventh, missing a 2-foot putt for par.
“It was a silly mistake,” Ko said. “I have a tendency to kind of jam the putt in with the short ones. I think I tried to do that, but on a slight downhill slope it was too much.”
Ko didn’t betray any frustration going 3 over through seven holes. She was her typically unaffected self. In fact, she bounced back at the eighth hole to make her first birdie as a pro, knocking in a 12-footer. She made four birdies to get under par over the final 11 holes.
“Getting angry obviously doesn’t help my game,” Ko said. “So, I just tried to stay calm.”
Ko is making her 12th LPGA start this year, but the first where she can take home a check. She left $934,000 on the table playing as an amateur in LPGA tournaments this year. Notably, her pro debut is coming with the largest first-place check in women’s golf up for grabs. There’s $700,000 waiting for the winner.
“One of the good things was I actually wasn’t thinking about any money or related stuff,” Ko said. “I just tried to play my game, which was obviously very helpful.”
Ko’s game has already been good enough to win two LPGA events before her 17th birthday. She will be looking to step up and make it three this weekend.