In most sports, the youngsters are the phenoms. In the age of 15-year-old gymnasts and 21-year-old baseball players setting records, they’re the ones shocking with the combination of their ability and age.
But on the LPGA Tour this year, it was Angela Stanford who’s the phenom. At 34 years old, her win at the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore at the start of the season makes her the oldest player to notch a win on the tour all year.
In golf, a sport that generally favors experience, younger is better for the ladies. The average age of winners on the 2012 LPGA Tour is 24, and the last young woman to win on the tour did so at 15. For perspective, Lydia Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open at the same age most of us were taking driver’s education classes, getting our braces removed and attending our high school’s spring fling dance.
The win made Ko, who was born in South Korea but has lived in New Zealand since she was six, the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour, but it’s actually not all that shocking for those who have been following all season. Lexi Thompson was previously the youngest winner, a record she set just 11 months ago at 16 years old.
And Ko certainly has a record that makes her one of the best. A year ago, she won both the New Zealand Stroke Play Championship and the New Zealand Match Play Championship. She made history once before when she won the New South Wales Open in January at age 14. It made her the youngest player to win on a professional tour, but that record was set again by Brooke Henderson’s win at the Canadian Women’s Tour event this summer over 36 holes.
Ko won the U.S. Women’s Amateur two weeks ago, and then cemented her spot in history, for now, in the LPGA Tour.
A CBS Sports report calls for a comparison to golf’s most popular figure, Tiger Woods. He set the record for youngest Masters champion at 21, but that record was overshadowed by the one he set with his play, winning by 12 strokes.
With a comparison like that, it might seem like Ko is ready to go big, but for now her plan is to stay an amateur so that she can finish high school and attend college. She even passed up the $300,000 prize at the Canadian Women’s Open to do so.
It sounds like she’ll even be passing up the Titleholders event at the end of the season on the LPGA Tour to focus on her studies, talk about priorities.
“When I go back to New Zealand … I actually have an external Cambridge exam, so I’m going to be really studying a lot and put golf at the back,” Ko said in the CBS article. “Yeah, I need to pass my exams and get good results for that.”
Ko certainly isn’t the first to shock the golf world by winning at a young age. Others on the LPGA Tour have done it before her, and like Woods, Rory McIlroy is the newest rookie to take the PGA Tour by storm, winning two majors by eight shots each by the time he was 23 years old.
According to Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin, Ko has every shot to win again on a major scale.
“It wouldn’t be the biggest shock,” Rankin said. “This was no fluke.”
Ko might have made a name for herself, but all eyes will be focused on what she can do next.