There were two exceptional young women who made it into interviews in the media center Thursday afternoon at the jtbc Founders Cup being played at the Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix, Arizona.
The first was Amy Anderson, a fresh-faced, full-fledged member of the Tour from North Dakota of all places. She finished 80th on the money list last year, her rookie year. She graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in accounting, But what most people didn’t know is that while she was securing her place on the LPGA for this year, she was also securing her future; she was studying to take the CPA exam.
The exam actually has four different parts: regulation (tax and business law), auditing, financial and business. To accommodate her Tour schedule, she had to do it in different cities, Orlando; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Fargo, North Dakota; and West Palm Beach, Florida over a period of a year and a half. Pretty dedicated stuff.
But the most interesting thing about this was that when she was asked what was harder, golf or passing the CPA exam, she was very clear:
Golf is always more difficult. I think studying is actually pretty easy compared to golf because the harder you work at it, I mean, the smarter you get. Golf doesn’t always work that way.
So honestly, like I thought that studying was a good reprieve from golf and it was almost relaxing.
But golf was easy enough today; she shot 2-under, good for T33 with half the field unable to finish due to a 4-hour rain delay in the morning.
The other exceptional young woman was Sophia Popov from Germany. She didn’t have a high enough priority status to be exempt into the tournament, so she had to wait for the email last Friday telling her that she was in, the last player into the field. There was only one problem: she was on an IV in the hospital in Naples, Florida, with a serious infection and Type A flu. She’d been there for seven days.
But she was bound and determined to come to Phoenix and play, so she finessed her way out of the hospital with her doctor on Sunday for a trail period at home. When she continued to improve, she hopped on a plane on Tuesday, arriving in the afternoon. She was only able to get nine holes in from 4 to 6 PM.
But because of the Wednesday pro-am, she wasn’t able to play the other nine. Ever resourceful, she walked the other nine with a friend of hers who hits it about the same distance while she was playing in her pro-am. That at least gave her a look at it and a feel for what she had to hit even though she wasn’t able to swing a club.
All of this kind of worked out somehow: she shot 6-under and is tied for the lead with Tiffany Joh, Kim Kaufman and, uh, Lydia Ko, the primary subject of this post.
But one other interesting thing about Popov before we get to Lydia is that she was raised in Germany from the time she was five years old. Born in America, her mother was American, her father German, so Sophia holds dual citizenship and speaks perfect, idiomatic English. So that wasn’t a result of playing her college golf at USC. (One of the media guys teased her that she had to have been from Germany, California — there is no such place — because her English was so flawless.)
As for Lydia Ko, she continues to amaze, an understatement that continues to grow each time I’m exposed to her. And not just because she shot 6-under. It’s the way she shot 6-under.
I was only able to follow her for her front nine. She was paired with Michelle Wie and Na Yeon Choi, two superstars of the Tour in their own right. They never had a chance; Michelle shot 1-over, her 2-under round marred by a triple bogey on her 17th hole while Na Yeon managed to finish off her 2-under.
Lydia simply placidly strolled the golf course with no expression or emotion on her face, stopping from time to time to hit one great shot after another. She is so relaxed when she walks that as her arms swing to the cadence of her body, her hands freely flop along.
And her swing looks just like she walks, languid and unhurried. While Michelle and Na Yeon were missing left or short, Lydia was assertively — “boldly” would be too strong a word for her personality — hitting it pin high and rarely missing the line by much. The reason she makes so many birdies — seven on this day — is because she gives herself so many chances.
But she is still a 17-year-old teenager, not some hired assassin, although the results are the same. As the three of them were striding down the beginning of the first fairway side by side, we could hear an excited, giggly conversation in progress. No doubt over their relief that the four-hour rain delay was over, they were playing and would be able to complete their entire round.
Once on the greens and invariably waiting for other two to play their shots or putts, Lydia unobtrusively reads her putt from different angles and from a distance and out of the sight lines of the others. When it’s her turn, she efficiently goes through her AimPoint routine, straddles her line to gauge the break using her fingers as sights and then addresses the ball, lines up the putter face and lets it go. She makes most of them. It’s almost a surprise when she doesn’t. She did 3-putt her 16th, but then came right back with a birdie on 17. Ho hum.
And she makes it all looks so simple, primarily because “there’s not much going on in my head:”
Like I said before, I like to take it one shot at a time. I think that makes it much easier rather than saying I have 72 holes for the whole week.
But I think if I try and put it into portions, it makes it a little bit more simple. I always say there’s not much going on in my head, so I would like to keep it simple.
When she flows into the media center, the stoicism in her playing face transforms into a warm and friendly face. And consistent with her personality, it is clear but understated.
And her humility is charming, still unable to get over that she’s the No. 1 player in the world at just 17:
It’s pretty cool to hear it on the tee when you’re teeing off, and the announcer says, “Rolex Rankings world No. 1.” But I’m probably still not used to it. I never will be.
Perhaps because that’s not the reason she plays. She plays to have fun. She was working with her coach, David Leadbetter on the range when the Girls Golf girls were getting ready to go do an event:
Yeah, I was actually working with David on the range on Sunday, and that Sunday, there were a lot of the Girls Golf girls there. They were doing a run around the course. They were doing some fun things with music and they said, you know, kids that are 17 years and younger can participate in this game and you can enter for a prize. I told David, can I go up and sign up?
Classic Lydia, the No. 1 player in the world wryly joking that she should be allowed to be in the run because she is, after all, 17 years old.
But she also has to be some sort of old soul. She’s already said that she is contemplating retiring at 30. It came up again around a conversation about Patty Sheehan tweeting to Lydia after her sixth win comparing her to Kathy Whitworth’s 88-win record:
Yeah, it’s pretty cool to be compared in that way, and it’s only — I shouldn’t say it’s only my sixth. I’ve had six victories [there’s that humility again]. But it’s pretty cool. I’ve got 82 more to reach there but it’s a long way and I say I would like to retire when I’m 30, and I don’t know how it all divides and how many I need to do.
But yeah, they have got such amazing records and they feel so far away. I’m trying to concentrate on one tournament at a time and that’s all I can do. It’s just hard to be those kind of people. I’ve still got a lot to work on my game to get even halfway near their record [there’s that humility again].
Is she really seriously thinking about retiring at 30? How could she give up all that would be possible for her in golf just because she arrived at an arbitrary time limit?
Yeah, still 13 years, I think it’s a long time. I played golf 12 years, so I think 25 years is a long time to devote to one sport. But I don’t know, my thoughts may change when I get closer to that age. But right now, I’m going to enjoy myself being a 17‑year‑old.
There’s that old soul again. But she also has some grounded ideas on what she might do in retirement. It’s the kind of thinking that motivational speakers encourage in their adherents:
I don’t know, I always found like media, broadcasting very interesting, and I’m starting psychology in uni. There’s so many different things. I love watching the Food Channel, so I might go that direction. But you don’t know what’s going to happen. But yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be exciting. It’s definitely going to be different to golf I think.
And Lydia gave us that one for free…in that soft, lilting voice of hers, of course. Everything about her just fits.