Lydia Ko is golf’s ultimate prodigy.
If there were a Grand Slam of record-setting youthful triumphs, Ko would have completed it Sunday by winning the Evian Championship in France.
And she would have done so with an exclamation point.
That’s what shooting a final-round 63 to become the youngest woman to win a major championship felt like.
Yes, Evian Golf Resort might not be St. Andrews or Oakmont, but this was her masterpiece, regardless of the canvas. Ko’s bogey-free 63 was ridiculously good under final-round pressure. She was seven shots better than anyone else in contention, seven shots better than anyone else among the final 18 players off the first tee on Sunday.
Though Ko started two shots behind at day’s start, she won by six. She hit every green in regulation but one.
“It’s kind of hard to beat somebody who shoots 63,” said Lexi Thompson, who shot 70 and still got lapped finishing second. “She played amazing. She deserves it. She ball-struck the heck out of this golf course and putted really well. You can't get much better than that.”
Ko sets the new mark as youngest woman to win a major at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Really, though, Ko’s feat feels even more historic than that. Yeah, sure, Young Tom Morris was 17 when he won the Open Championship in 1868, but he was among just a dozen players in the field.
Even Ko was dazzled by her feat.
“It’s amazing, I guess, a little bit, that I can leave my name in the history books,” Ko said.
Here’s a slam that’s grand: At 14, Ko won the NSW Open on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, becoming the youngest player at the time to win a professional event. At 15, she won the Canadian Women’s Open, becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA event. At 17, she ascended to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, becoming the youngest man or woman to rank No. 1 in professional golf.
And now there’s this, breaking through to win the Evian Championship, her best triumph and toughest test.
Ko delivered under pressure Sunday, under constant reminders that if she was going to surpass Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of major, this was her last chance. Pressel was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old when she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2007. Ko will be a full month older than that when women’s golf’s next major arrives at Mission Hills next spring.
Ko got a full year of this hype from us folks in the media, a countdown of her last five chances to surpass Pressel. The pressure seemed to be getting to Ko, too, right from the start. She tied for 51st in the spring at the ANA Inspiration, her worst finish in a major until she missed the cut in her very next major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. That was the first cut she missed as an amateur or pro playing the LPGA. She got some major momentum going at the U.S. Women’s Open, tying for 12th, and then made a good run at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, tying for third.
By the time Ko arrived at Evian, she didn’t have to be asked about the clock ticking on her major quest.
Walking on to the 18th green Sunday, Ko knew it was finally over. Her caddie, Jason Hamilton, told her to enjoy the moment. Ko said she felt her eyes well up with tears thinking about what the victory meant.
“I didn't totally cry-cry,” Ko said. “But I kind of got a little overwhelmed, and I could kind of felt tears coming when Jason said, `Enjoy the moment.’
“I kind of felt back over the whole week and all the questions I've been asked. But in a way, I was relieved.”
It was Ko’s fourth victory this year, the 13th professional title worldwide in her career.
Her coaches should get their due, too. The team of David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan got some grief taking over Ko’s game at the end of 2013 when they started changing her swing. There was criticism changing her fade to a draw, remaking her swing to give her more distance, but look what they’ve done together. Four wins this year alone, rising to No. 1 back in January, ranking No. 2 on the cusp of No. 1 again now, and winning this major.
“Pretty amazing,” Ko said.