Date: February 18, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

World No. 1 heads back to study

Lydia Ko is here for a good time, not a long time. At least in golfing terms.

New Zealand's world No. 1 repeated her statement today that she wanted to retire by the time she is 30. As proof that she means it, she has enrolled at a university in Seoul, South Korea, to study psychology from March.

It's a topic that she knows is heavily-linked with golf, the most cerebral of games.

But it's also her future. At 17, she has become the youngest-ever to scale the world rankings in the game that she loves, but she is also thinking about the afterlife.

"I'm playing so much golf I might not be able to get it done in that same period as everyone else, but as long as I feel like I've learned something and I can get my degree, that's the most important part, rather than the three-year period when I feel that I need to do it,'' she told a media conference today on the eve of the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.

Ko became the youngest-ever world No. 1 in golf, ascending to the top of the Rolex Rankings several weeks ago  when she finished runner-up in an LPGA event in Florida. But having achieved one of her goals, she is scarcely about to stop.

"I personally think this is the start,'' she said. "Golf is a sport that you can play for many years, and that's my plan. This is only the start of my second year on tour. I've been enjoying that and I'm really looking forward to what's coming up next.''

For the Korean-born Kiwi, it is about covering all bases.  "I think you never know what's going to happen. I always say my plan is to retire when I'm 30, so I'm not going to just go to the beach and hang out for the rest of my life after that. There's always a second career that comes along with it and I'm trying to build up towards it. I'm playing a sport that I know psychology can link it up together.''

Ko owns the top ranking but still does not have a drivers' licence, and travels with her mother, Tina Hyon, when she is away from her base in Florida. She exudes a maturity beyond her years, and an ability to keep a firm grip on perspective.

"I think just having fun is probably my biggest goal,'' she said. "When you have fun, everything kind of goes by fast, and going fast is not a bad thing when you're playing 25 or 26  tournaments. To me, my top goal in every season is to have fun and enjoy it, because I've had points where I've stressed out and my self-expectation has gotten on top. So I try to block it all out. When I'm having fun, that's when I play the best so it all matches up.''

Ko will start as the favourite this week, being familiar with Royal Melbourne and the sandbelt. She is working with a new caddie, Jason Hamilton, who is a local, after chewing through eight bagmen in 2014, her first season as a professional on the LPGA. She says this was about finding the right match of personality and skill.

"My caddie, I like to get him involved. I do Aimpoint (the green-reading system) with my putting but also separately I ask him for his opinion on reading. He gets my yardages, helps me with club selection, he lines me up so there's not a lot he doesn't do. Personality-wise, obviously you can get made when you make a silly mistake but I like Jason how he makes some dumb jokes, I guess sarcastic sentences. It makes me go 'what the hell is he talking about?' But it makes me get over what just happened. In a way bad jokes is my criteria. He would really not have a good career in being a comedian.''

Besides, she feels comfortable here. "It's great to come back here, because New Zealand, Australia we always give  a little bit of crap to each other! But we're always brother and sister countries. We may say these jokes but at the end of the day, we're so alike. I can't play in New Zealand that often — maybe once a year, or even less — so to come here to Australia is pretty awesome. The spectators will be awesome and it's going to be a fun week.''