No kidding: Ko, 17, thriving as world No. 1

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PHOENIX – In case you’re wondering, Lydia Ko is having fun as the Rolex world No. 1.

Seven weeks into her reign atop women’s golf, she hasn’t felt the weight of the ranking diminishing her level of play or her love of the game.

Though she’s the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf, she hasn’t forgotten she’s basically a kid playing a game.

Ko brought that home Sunday getting ready for the JTBC Founders Cup while hitting balls on the range at Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club aside her coach, David Leadbetter, and her mother, Tina. She was out there with a bunch of junior golfers who were having a fun day as part of an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf event linked to the Founders Cup.

“They were doing a run around the course,” Ko said. “And they were doing some fun things with music. They said kids that are 17 years old and younger can participate in this game, that you can enter for prizes. I told David, `Can I go up and sign up?’”


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Ko laughed telling the story. She likes to laugh and being No. 1 isn’t changing that. It may be the surest sign she’s doing just fine so far handling all the extra pressure that goes with being the game’s top player.

“One thing we try to do is keep her laughing,” Leadbetter said. “She seems to be handling everything quite well. She isn’t putting any undue pressure on herself.”

In fact, Ko’s thriving as the world No. 1.

Her last three starts have ended: win, win, second place.

Ko won in back-to-back weeks at the Women’s Australian Open and the New Zealand Women’s Open.

She finished second to Inbee Park at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore in her last start.

That’s three consecutive weeks where every shot mattered with a trophy on the line.

“I don’t think people realize how tough it is playing week after week in contention, especially being at home in New Zealand one of those weeks, with all the extra things that go with that,” Leadbetter said. “It’s amazing how she’s able to handle it all.”

Christina Kim turned 31 this week. She remembers what it was like playing professional golf as a teenager. She was 18 when she turned pro. She sees the unaffected manner with which Ko seems to meet challenges and marvels.

“The way she plays golf, it’s like watching somebody walk on water,” Kim said. “She glides through golf.

“She looks like she’s swinging at, like, 40 percent. I know she’s not. Her hands are really, really quick through impact, but it’s just effortless. I don’t know, her whole game, it’s as close to perfect as you’ll find.”

Of course, Ko’s game isn’t perfect. Still, Kim admires how close Ko’s game seems to it compared to everyone else in the women’s game.

Through 46 LPGA starts, dating back to when she was playing the tour as a 14-year-old amateur, Ko has never missed a cut. She logs a first- second- or third-place finish roughly once every three times she plays in an LPGA event. She has the six victories, five second-place finishes and four third-place finishes. She has 26 top-10 finishes.

After Ko won the Women’s Australian Open last month, Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan shot a tweet Ko’s way.

“You know who Kathy Whitworth is, right?” Sheehan tweeted.

Whitworth, of course, is the winningest player in LPGA history. She holds the tour record with 88 career titles.

Ko tees it up Thursday at the JTBC Founders Cup looking to win her 11th professional title, her seventh LPGA title. She will be looking to win for the third time in four starts.

Playing the Founders Cup for the first time last year, Ko tied for second. She had a three-shot lead on the front nine but like all the contenders watched Karrie Webb close hard and win.

“I was a little disappointed with the way that I couldn't pull it off, but Karrie played better,” Ko said. “Sometimes that's the case, but I think it gives me confidence coming into this week, seeing that I played well before here. It’s a course that I know.”

It almost doesn’t seem to matter if Ko knows the course these days. She knows how to get herself in the hunt, no matter where she’s playing. That has all of golf marveling.