New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko on Wednesday said she was comfortable in the role of a female sporting icon after becoming golf’s youngest ever world No 1.
Seventeen-year-old Ko, who smashed Tiger Woods’ record of reaching the top ranking when he was 21, said comments from aspiring golfers drove her to become a better player.
She was speaking just after the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews admitted its first female members, a breakthrough after 260 years of men-only membership.
“When I have kids or juniors come up to me and say ‘Oh you’re my idol’ it makes me feel very proud,” she told a teleconference ahead of next month’s HSBC Women’s Champions.
“Hearing those things makes me feel like I need to become a better player just for them and hopefully just give more opportunities for the goals that will lead the LPGA.”
Britain’s Princess Anne and retired greats Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam were among the first seven women to join Scotland’s R&A, known as the “home of golf”.
“I think it’s great. Women’s golf is getting much bigger, it just shows that a lot of people are more interested in the women’s game,” said Ko.
“It’s a great first step for women’s golf. It’s great that the R&A did that.”
South Korean-born Ko, who won her first professional event at the record age of just 14, tops the rankings just a year after turning pro and changing her clubs, sponsor and coach.
This year she has ditched her trademark glasses in favour of contact lenses – and the switch did no harm at all as she reached No 1 in the first event of the season.
A share of second was enough to put Ko on top of the rankings in Orlando and she defended her position by finishing tied seventh last week in the Bahamas.
“I got in the habit of wearing my glasses and lifting them up. It’s definitely different,” she said of wearing contacts.
“In the Bahamas it rained on the first day in the afternoon and to not have to wipe the raindrops off my lens it was pretty awesome, so that was probably the first time I was happy it was raining.
“I’m getting used to contacts and trying to use my sunglasses to keep the wind off so they won’t dry. But it’s cool, I like the change.”
A cautionary tale about life at No 1 comes in the form of Taiwan’s Tseng Yani, who spent two years at the top until 2013 but then crumbled and is now ranked at 90.
But despite the pressure, the laid-back Ko said she was relaxed about the rankings and determined to keep enjoying her golf.
“It’s pretty awesome and it’s a huge honour to be in this position. I’m very proud to be here. This has always been a goal to become world No 1, so to be in the ranking right now it’s awesome,” she said.
“But I’m really going to go out to every tournament and try to have a good result there and not think about the rankings, because if somebody else plays really good and they win a couple of tournaments it’s really out of my hands.
“I’m just going to really enjoy being there, it’s really fun.”
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