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Lydia Ko

Bogyung Lydia Ko was five when she first picked up a golf club. She was visiting Sydney when her aunt, Insook Hyon, gave her a 7-iron and a putter to play with. “I must have liked it, because when you’re that young, if you don’t like something you just toss it,” she said.

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“My journey has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. I am very grateful about all the things that have happened in my career, and all the opportunities I have gotten. Each step and each experience have been a learning experience, and all those moments have made me the person, and the golfer I am today.”

Lydia’s mother, Tina Hyon, was told her daughter had a natural gift for the game. Tina said:

“She started hitting golf balls, and some people said she had talent, so we let her keep going. She wasn’t playing at that point, just trying to hit the ball properly.”

Tina ended up paying a golf pro to teach Lydia some of the finer points of golf.

When Lydia was six, her mother, father Gil Hong Ko, and older sister Sura, moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, from Seoul, South Korea. They had been tossing up whether to move to Canada, and almost moved to Australia before Tina decided on Aotearoa New Zealand. They loved the laid-back village life of Auckland’s North Shore, compared to bustling Seoul.

The Pro Shop at Pupuke Golf Club was where Lydia met her first coach, Guy Wilson, in 2003. Professional golfer Michael Hendry recalls the day Lydia walked in the door.

“I was on the putting green at Pupuke that day. I’m extremely proud of what she’s been able to achieve.”

Practising golf shots can be repetitive and tedious. Michael says that Guy was able to instil a level of enjoyment into those fundamental steps with Lydia that enabled her to love it, regardless of the monotony, and she worked hard.

In March 2005, at the age of seven, Lydia competed in the New Zealand national amateur championships, shooting a 98, and three rounds of 100 off a 14 handicap. The field included thirteen players under the age of 15 and heralded a new chapter in women’s golf in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Lydia would go on to build a career of world golfing firsts, and fly the flag for New Zealand sporting achievements, while also honouring her birthplace of Korea.

“I feel the way I act is very Kiwi, and I feel like I have a Kiwi personality. I’m quite freestyle, rather than Korean-style, but growing up we enjoyed Korean food and Korean TV.”

Lydia kept chipping away at her game, fitting school in around golf commitments. Her prodigious talent was recognised in 2011 when she was the first female to be awarded the Mark H. McCormack medal. Presented annually by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to the leading player in the world amateur golf rankings at the end of the year, Lydia would receive the award for three consecutive years.

In January 2012, aged 14, she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tournament when she took out the Bing Lee/Samsung Women’s NSW Open on the ALPG Tour. It would be the first of many age-group records she would smash, and achievements she would clock up.

In August 2012, Lydia won the CN Canadian Women’s Open – the youngest ever winner of an LPGA Tour event, and she defended her title in 2013. She received some nice feedback on social media at the time from Tiger Woods, saying that Lydia was a better golfer than he was at 15. She finished second in the Evian Championship the same year – a Major championship, and she had nine top-nine finishes in 14 starts.

In October 2013, at 16, Lydia applied to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and they waived the Tour’s requirement for members to be at least 18 years old. She announced her move with a fun video on social media with All Black and golf fanatic Israel Dagg. When he jokingly offered to caddie for Lydia, she said:

“It’ll be a full-time gig though. You might have to leave the All Blacks.”

Lydia won her first LPGA Tour event as a professional at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, celebrating her 17th birthday during the tournament. It was one of three tournaments she would win in 2014. She also won LPGA Rookie of the Year and took out both Sportswoman of the Year and the Supreme Award at the 51st Halberg Awards – New Zealand’s most prestigious sporting award. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In February 2015, Lydia became the number one ranked female golf player on tour, and across the year she won five tournaments, including the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open – the second time she had taken the trophy home. In November, she won the LPGA Player of the Year award, making her the youngest winner in 49 years.

When golf debuted at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Lydia won the silver medal. She followed this up in 2021 by winning the bronze medal at the COVID-19-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, under sad personal circumstances. She dedicated the medal to her grandmother who had died that week.

Lydia’s streak at number one ran for 85 weeks from February 2015 until June 2017, but then her winning form faltered. She had top-10 finishes, but no wins for four years, until April 2021 at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. During this time, Lydia persevered against criticism that she’d lost her mojo. Her desire to win never left, and she kept working on making incremental gains. She ended the year winning the 2021 Vare Trophy for the lowest stroke average on the LPGA tour – an award that had previously eluded her.

In 2022, Lydia entered 22 tournaments, winning three of them. She was back!

Lydia married Jun Chung on 30 December 2022, at the Myeong-dong Cathedral in Seoul. It was a fitting end to a year when she won three LPGA tournaments and regained the number one ranking in the LPGA tour in November for the third time in her career.

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Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.

Explore the Legacy Project

Celebrate the New Zealanders past and present who’ve made a difference in the world.