(Reuters) - New Zealand’s 16-year-old prodigy Lydia Ko is “super excited” about making her professional debut next month in Florida, and expects the novel experience of competing for money to be on her mind for at least her first few events.
Ko was given the green light on Monday to become a full member of the LPGA Tour from the start of the 2014 season after the governing body waived the 18-year-old age limit clause.
Already the winner of four professional titles, the bespectacled Ko will tee it up in the paid ranks for the first time in the LPGA Tour’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Florida from Nov 21-24.
”I‘m super, super excited,“ Ko said on a teleconference call on Monday about her looming professional debut. ”I really wanted to play (the season ender) last year, but I couldn’t because of exams.
“I was lucky enough to finish (exams) early (this year) so that I can go and play. And I’ve never been to Florida, so that will be a whole new destination, as well.”
She will also enter foreign territory as she finally begins to embrace the idea of competing on the LPGA Tour for money.
“Definitely it will be on my mind for the first couple of tournaments,’ Ko said of the chance to earn prize money. ”When I was an amateur playing the professional women’s tournaments, it didn’t mean much about me going up and down score-wise.
“Now it’s pretty much a thousand dollars on the line. I’ve just got to learn to not think about that, just enjoy myself and know it’s a great opportunity. Just got to have fun with all the experience I’ll be able to learn.”
Ko, who was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was six, became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour when she captured last year’s Canadian Open at the age of 15.
She further underlined her quality by becoming the youngest champion on the European Tour by clinching the co-sanctioned New Zealand Open in February, then successfully defended her Canadian Open title in August.
Asked to outline her immediate goals on the LPGA Tour, Ko replied: ”As it will be my first year, I just want to build up and just want to get the feel of what it’s like to be a Tour player.
”It’s obviously a lot of hard work playing three or four weeks in a row and then having one week off and then doing that again. I just want to get the feeling. I guess experience is a huge part.
“I‘m actually quite excited to play a couple of weeks in a row. I played a couple of weeks in a row for the New Zealand Open, the Australian Open and Thailand this year, so I kind of got the feel there.”
Ko, the youngest player to win a professional tournament when she clinched the New South Wales Open in Sydney aged 14, has made no specific plans about her playing schedule for next year.
”I‘m not sure about how many tournaments I’ll play,“ she said. ”The schedule for 2014 isn’t out yet, but it will be my last year at high school next year.
“I‘m definitely going to graduate. I want to go to university, so I do need to graduate high school first.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue