Teen marvel Lydia targets gold

Teen marvel Lydia targets gold

Kiwi golfer will be looking to add another first to her name

Teen marvel Lydia targets gold

World number one Lydia Ko grew up thinking the Olympics were an impossible dream, so she won't let anything -- even the Zika virus threat -- stop her chasing glory in Rio.

Golf is returning to the Olympics after a 112-year absence and the 19-year-old New Zealander believes she can take in three Games before giving up, and who knows maybe turning to a new career in cooking.

"I never thought of golf returning to the Olympics, especially since it was last played in 1904, it's just incredible," she told AFP.

"I feel so privileged to have the opportunity. If you end up getting a medal that's great, but just to say 'I'm an Olympian', that's something to be proud of your whole life."

While concerns over the Zika virus have prompted a host of male golfers -- including the world's top four Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy -- to skip Rio, Ko said she would not follow.

"I'm more excited about the Olympics, about the ceremony, about just being part of the Olympic vibe than worrying about the Zika virus," she said.

"There are so many experts that are taking care of all that... we've just got to trust them."

Ko is the strong favourite for the women's golf gold medal at the landmark Games.Such has been her dominance -- 14 LPGA titles including two majors since turning pro in late 2013 -- that it's easy to forget the Korean-born Kiwi is still a teenager.

Ko has torn up the record books in becoming the youngest player to win a professional tournament, youngest world number one, youngest major winner and the fastest to claim 10 LPGA Tour titles.

Her coach David Leadbetter, who has worked with legends such as Nick Faldo and Ernie Els, describes her as a "savant" and "Tiger-esque", referring to Tiger Woods, in her ability to read the game.

Pundits have been impressed with Ko's temperament as much as her ability with the clubs, hailing a composure under pressure that belies her tender years. Ko credits the stability and work ethic instilled by her parents, who moved from Seoul to Auckland when she was six.
Her interest in golf started at five, when an aunt gave her a putter and a seven iron. Within two years she was competing at the New Zealand Women's Amateur tournament. Five years later she won the event, then at 14 became the world's top-ranked amateur.

Her family, mindful of the burn-out rate among golf prodigies, resisted calls for her to turn professional immediately. Instead, she continued her school studies and practised for up to 50 hours a week.

She also kept winning, claiming four professional tournaments as an amateur, meaning she was unable to collect more than US $2.0 million in prize money.

The steady approach paid dividends, with Ko's career earnings exceeding US$7 million since she turned pro in late 2013. A self-confessed "food-holic", she misses New Zealand chocolate on tour and says she is looking forward to trying Brazilian cuisine in Rio.

Her meticulous career plan initially involved retiring at 30 to become a psychologist, but Ko said her love of food may now dominate when she hangs up the clubs.

"I'm still planning to retire at 30 but not sure about becoming a psychologist. I do have an interest in cooking these days, so I'm still thinking," she said.

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