<
>

Lydia Ko makes case for greatness with second straight major

play
Lydia Ko takes a plunge in Poppie's Pond after ANA Inspiration win (1:08)

Lydia Ko takes advantage of Ariya Jutanugarn's late collapse to win the ANA Inspiration. (1:08)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lydia Ko worked her way around the golf course Sunday the way she usually does, looking as if pressure is something to be chewed up in the same fashion as the apple slices tucked in her bag or the other healthy snacks her mother slips her from the gallery.

That Ko never led the final round of the LPGA's ANA Inspiration tournament until the 18th hole presented as daunting a challenge as the must-make putts for par she faced all day, which is to say not very much at all.

When she sank that final birdie on the par-5 final hole -- following a three-quarter wedge shot that spun to within a foot of the cup -- to put a vise grip on the psyche and the chances of Ariya Jutanugarn coming up behind her, it was in the same exceptional and yet matter-of-fact fashion the golf world has come to expect.

If Ko at age 18 is to be considered the most successful teenage athlete in professional sports history -- and she is now at the forefront of that conversation after capturing her second major title to become the youngest LPGA player to win two -- she should also be lauded for the almost frighteningly tranquil manner in which she has done it.

"This young player was made for what she is doing," said Hall of Fame golfer and Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin. "She has the most ideal temperament I have ever seen."

Earlier in the week, Ko's sister and manager, Sura, marveled that her younger sibling had been that way since she was born, an event that did not even provoke a cry from the newborn. "So that's pretty calm," Sura said.

Calm is the way Ko followed her Kia Class title last week with the LPGA's first major of 2016, the first player to win in back-to-back weeks since Inbee Park won three in a row in 2013 and the first since Park that year to win the LPGA event before a major.

It is the way the New Zealand native and Florida resident became the youngest player in LPGA Tour history to reach 10 wins, beating Nancy Lopez's record last year, and it was certainly the way she notched her 12th.

Down two strokes to Jutanugarn with three holes to go, Ko hit tough putts for par, particularly her 8-footer on 17 en route to her final round 3-under 69 to finish the tournament at 12 under and edge In Gee Chun and Charley Hull by one stroke.

Jutanugarn had three straight bogeys on the final three holes Sunday, a meltdown that no doubt had to bring back memories of the then-17-year-old three years ago at a tournament in her native Thailand when she lost a two-stroke lead with a triple-bogey on 18.

"[On 17], I knew that being two shots behind, I needed to make my par putt on 17, and make an eagle or birdie at most on the last hole," Ko said. "But after I hit my shot, I looked at the leaderboard and saw that we were all tied at 11-under [and] Charley and In Gee could make an eagle, too. Just so many thoughts, but obviously hitting it to a foot on the last hole makes it a lot easier than having a three- or four-footer."

Ko claimed not to know until Saturday that she was the youngest female to win two majors in golf history (and essentially the youngest ever, as you have to go back to 1869 and Young Tom Morris, who did it at 18, to find a male).

"It's extra special to be the youngest to win two majors, but to win any event is special and to know all the hard work we put in as a team paid off," Ko said. "All the stats and everything comes at the end and just to embrace the win is a special thing, more than the youngest something."

Nevertheless, it was with youthful exuberance that she took the hands of her mother, sister, caddie and caddie's fiancé to take the traditional leap into Poppie's Pond after the victory.

"I've seen so many different jumps," Ko said. "People take leaps or walk in, but I never imagined it. I just said, 'Wow, it would be so cool to take the jump. What would [my] feelings be?' I asked some people, 'Hey, how should I jump? How do I make it [look] cool?' And I think you just kind of run and go, 'Hey, whatever...' "

Ko, who has now finished first or second in nine of her past 14 worldwide starts, heads next to the Masters, where she will accept the LPGA Player of the Year award. It will be her first trip to Augusta National, she said ... but she said it in a way that was quintessential Ko.

"So many people have said it's more undulating than what you see on the [TV] screen," she said. "To me, I'm just really looking forward to meeting some of the guys. I haven't met Jordan Spieth, so I would love to meet him. I've only heard great things about him. Just being in that Masters vibe. There's got to be a reason why everybody says, 'Hey, that's the Masters.' "

Still wearing the robe given to the ANA champ after the leap into the pond, Ko grabbed a lukewarm hotdog on her way out of the media tent, but not before posing for photos with everyone who asked.

How is she different than any other 18-year-old on the planet, she was asked?

"I don't know, I don't feel like I am special, that I'm better than anybody else," she said. "To me, I'm just trying to enjoy playing on the tour that I've always dreamed of playing on amongst these amazing girls. And just to be able to travel to these amazing places, I think that's what I'm fortunate about. I don't feel special in other ways."

Which is, of course, precisely what makes her so special. That, and the fact that for now anyway, she prefers to focus on her game rather than going after endorsements that could at least help make her one of the most recognized athletes in the world.

"She just wants to be a better golfer," said her sister, "and a better person at the same time."