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Record-breaker Lydia Ko: U.S. college first, pro tour later

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Mon August 27, 2012
Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko is the youngest LPGA Tour winner in history courtesy of her win at the Canadian Women's Open. She was just 14 when she triumphed at the the New South Wales Open in January 2012, becoming the youngest player to win a professional tournament. She clinched the U.S. Amateur Championship two weeks ago. Fifteen-year-old Lydia Ko is the youngest LPGA Tour winner in history courtesy of her win at the Canadian Women's Open. She was just 14 when she triumphed at the the New South Wales Open in January 2012, becoming the youngest player to win a professional tournament. She clinched the U.S. Amateur Championship two weeks ago.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lydia Ko became the youngest ever LPGA Tour winner on Sunday
  • The 15-year-old is the first amateur to win on the Tour since JoAnne Carter in 1969
  • New Zealander's non-professional status means she missed out on $300,000 prize money
  • South Korea-born Ko plans to remain amateur and attend college in the U.S.

(CNN) -- Tiger Woods first won on the PGA Tour until he was 20, and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was 19 when he managed a European Tour success.

Neither can rival the prodigious Lydia Ko, a New Zealand golfer on a record-breaking rise.

Ko's three-shot victory at the Canadian Women's Open, four months and two days after her 15th birthday, made her the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history, and the first amateur to win on the U.S. circuit since JoAnne Carter in 1969.

It has been a stellar year for the South Korea-born teen, with her record-breaking success coming two weeks after her triumph at the U.S. Amateur Championship and seven months after she became the youngest woman to win a pro tournament at the New South Wales Open.

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"It feels amazing," she told New Zealand Golf's official website after Sunday's landmark win, capped off with a final five-under-par round of 67.

"I broke the youngest record in January for the New South Wales Open and to break another record or being in the history books, it's amazing, and it's always awesome to be able to play with the pros.

"So I never knew I had it coming, and I was so happy to win the U.S. Amateur, to win this. I never think about it, I just wanted to make the cut.

"And when I saw that I was tied first after the second day, I was like, wow. I'm feeling really good. And yeah, kind of surprised to have two wins in such a short time."

The tournament at the Vancouver Golf Club came with a $300,000 check for the winner, but Ko will not see a cent of it.

While her amateur status may be detrimental to her bank balance, some seasoned observers are advising she stays among the amateur ranks for a little longer yet.

"In the end it was a pretty comfortable win for a player who is new to this level and competing with the top 48 out of 50 money winners on the LPGA Tour," said New Zealand golfing legend Bob Charles, who won the 1963 British Open.

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"I understand that she has expressed interest in going to college here in the States at Stanford. She has obviously shown that she is good enough but I think she would benefit from a few more years as an amateur. I am pleased to hear that she wants to stay amateur for a few more years and that she intends to get an education behind her.

"While she has endless possibilities with her golf game, you never know what is going to happen and I encourage any young player to keep up the study while they are playing golf to help with other options later in life."

Ko echoed the views of Charles, while stressing she was keen to not forget the amateur scene which has helped her become one of the world's most exciting young golfers.

The teenager is also helped by a wealthy benefactor. Octogenarian David Levene donated some of his $220 million fortune to Ko earlier this year, which meant she could retain her amateur status and continue with her education.

"I'll still remain an amateur and then finish high school and then go to college in the States," Ko said on the LGPA's official website. "I mean this is a great win, but I don't think this will affect me changing my roots to my career."

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New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy hailed Ko's triumph as a landmark day in the history of the sport in the country.

"She has delivered one of the great days in New Zealand golf history," said Murphy. "Lydia has beaten a field of world-class professionals at the age of 15.

"It is not only a standout achievement in the history of New Zealand golf but also in the annals of New Zealand sport. Perhaps the most exciting thing with Lydia is, the best is yet to come."

The Auckland-based Ko, who has rocketed 140 places up the world rankings to 45th, will now turn her attention to the British Open -- which begins on September 13.

After finishing tied for 39th at July's U.S. Open, her first major, many will be expecting Ko to carry her current form into one of the sport's four marquee events.

Ko is being backed to succeed by one of her Kiwi forerunners, Marnie McGuire, who managed three third-place finishes -- one outright and two tied -- during her LPGA career.

"She will have more opportunities and obligations than she can possibly fulfill," said the 43-year-old, who turned pro in 1992 after graduating from Oklahoma State University and established herself in Japan before returning to the U.S.

"She needs to make sure she keeps the enjoyment in her game because that is one of the things that has made her successful.

"Yes she has missed out on the $300,000 but it is never about the money. She will be well supported for the rest of her life. It is never about the money though. It is about the achievement of winning and in Lydia's case creating history."

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