By SCOTT COTTOS
SYLVANIA– Age may only be a number, but when combined with another number, age may make you raise your eyebrows.
Consider Lydia Ko. She’s No. 2 in the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings. And she’s 17 years old.
A rookie on the LPGA Tour, which will contest the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club today through Sunday, the South Korea-born New Zealander may be the person least impressed by what she’s been in such a short time.
“I don’t feel like I’m the No. 2 player in the world and that’s not really what I think about,” she said Wednesday. “But to be in that position right now, I’m really grateful.”
The ranking has come in a season in which she’s won the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic en route to winning $851,019, good for fourth on the money list.
The LPGA does have a minimum-age requirement of 18. But considering that Ko won events on both the LPGA and Ladies European tours when she was 15 and successfully defended her Canadian Open championship last year, commissioner Mike Whan’s decision to grant membership to Ko seems to make perfect sense.
Yes, her results are a big deal in the golf world — to everyone but the person who has achieved them.
“When I’m out here playing golf, I don’t think about what I’ve won or what position I was in a week ago,” she said. “I just try to think of a week as a whole new week and the day as a whole new day. I think when I kind of realize what I’ve done is, like, during the awards ceremony when they read what you’ve done the years past. But, you know, I don’t really think about it, but I’m grateful and I try to take it in and just concentrate on my game.”
Ko finished last year’s Marathon Classic — her first — in a tie for seventh place that also included the player now ranked No. 1 –Toledo native Stacy Lewis.
And, certainly, Ko would someday like to own that top spot.
“To be the world’s No. 1 player, that’s always been a big goal,” she said. “Hopefully I can get in that position sometime. I don’t think I need to be in that position right now or whenever. Hopefully that time will come to me, but I’ll have to work hard to get in that position.”
As student who has yet to graduate from her high school in New Zealand, Ko said she’s gained some advice from other early achievers such as Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.
Ko said she’s like to pursue the path of Wie as someone who has been successful on tour at a young age and also completed college.
“When I first played with her, I think she was, like, 15 or something,” the 24-year-old Wie, a 2012 Stanford graduate, said. “She said she wanted to go to college and I was someone that she looked up to, and it’s really strange to hear that from other people. … She has a really great head on her shoulders and I feel very honored that I can help her in any way I can. I just want to help make it easier because I know what it’s like to be young and out on tour, so hopefully I’ve helped her a little bit.”
HOMETOWN PROUD: Lewis moved with her parents from Toledo to The Woodlands, Texas, when she was 2. She then played collegiately at Arkansas — winning the individual NCAA title as a senior — before turning pro.
On her way to topping this year’s money list with $1,627,633, Lewis has won in both Texas and Arkansas, so she’ll be looking for a hometown sweep of sorts at Highland Meadows, where she’s always cheered on by family and friends wearing “Lew Crew” T-shirts. Lewis is also sponsored by Marathon.
“It’s always fun coming back here for me, having the family connection,” she said. “We always have big family dinners and stuff on the weekend. So just being able to hang out and have that time to relax is always nice. As soon as I won at Arkansas, I was getting messages from all the Marathon people. They said: ‘So now you need to come and win in Toledo, too. No pressure.’ But it would be awesome to win here. I’ve been coming here so many years, playing as an amateur and coming here as a kid, this place and this tournament mean a lot to me.”
O-H-I-O: Another player hoping to please family and friends is Victoria Elizabeth, a second-year tour player who hails from Dayton.
“I have a lot of family and friends coming this week and I’m very, very excited,” Elizabeth, 22, said. “My great-grandmother and great aunt and cousin are coming, and they’ve never seen me play golf, so that’s going to be really cool.”
While Lewis is sitting at the top of the women’s golf world, Elizabeth is one of those scratching to hang on to her tour card. She lost her card last year after making just one cut in 12 tournaments and making just $3,918 — 54 spots away from the top 100 money winners who retain their cards. She’s now 104th, having won $34,996.
Elizabeth is hoping to pick up her pace so as not to have to regain her card by going through the grueling five-round qualifying school for the second straight year.
“It was very stressful,” she said. “I tried to tell myself, ‘It’s fine (going) back on the Symetra Tour. I’ll just earn my card the way I did in 2012 — top 10 on the money list. I’ll just focus on improving the parts of my game that need to be improved and maybe that’s what God has planned for me. But I’m very happy that it worked out the way it did.
“Most of me was trying to tell myself that it’s OK if I’m on the Symetra Tour. But another part of my brain took over and said, ‘No, I want to be playing with the best players in the world and I think I deserve to be out there.’ So I’m very happy that it worked out that way.”
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