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Golf: Kiwi whizz Ko, 16, tempers soaring expectations

New Zealand phenomenon Lydia Ko, 16, said she was trying to put soaring expectations out of her mind as she makes the difficult adjustment to life as a professional golfer.

SINGAPORE: New Zealand phenomenon Lydia Ko, 16, said she was trying to put soaring expectations out of her mind as she makes the difficult adjustment to life as a professional golfer.

Ko excelled as an amateur to such an extent that her decision to turn professional in October, announced on YouTube, was generally welcomed, with the LPGA tour waiving its usual age requirement of 18.

But life on tour, with weekly tournaments and travel, and media and sponsor demands, is a very different proposition and Ko said she was just happy to feel her way in her rookie year.

"It's kind of a learning year as it's my rookie year and I haven't played the majority of the courses and I've got to learn what it's like playing on the tour," she told AFP at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

"You just can't play well every week, every day," she added. "I wish I could but that doesn't really happen. Expectations are there but I've just got to forget about it and just concentrate on my game."

Bespectacled, South Korean-born Ko is already ranked fourth in the world after winning four professional events as an amateur -- including one at the record-breaking age of just 14.

She began her debut LPGA pro season last month in the Bahamas, and there was a buzz of excitement as she shared the first-round lead before finishing tied for seventh.

A joint-third finish at the Women's Australian Open underlined her capability of competing at the top level but an indifferent final round last week in Pattaya left her in a tie for 19th.

Rounds of 73 and 69 have left Ko in the hunt at this week's $1.4 million HSBC Women's Champions, the high point of the LPGA's early season Asian swing.

Ko has also made big changes off the course, sacking her long-time coach -- a move which fellow New Zealander Steve Williams, Tiger Woods's former caddie, called "unethical" -- and signing with management giant IMG.

At the tournament in Singapore, she appeared with a manager by her side and with her New Zealand accent mixed with strong hints of American, indicating how her life is quickly changing.

With hype and distractions swirling, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan attempted to ease the pressure on the teenager by saying "it's completely not important at all" that she excels in her first season.

"She's going to have a long golfing career, hopefully she's going to have a lot of great years. It doesn't have to happen in the first one," said Whan.

"Not that many rookies win a couple times because there's a lot going on, she's going to have a lot of changes."

He added: "I'm now in my fifth year as commissioner, there's always somebody who everybody's thinking about: whether that's Michelle Wie, or Paula Creamer, or Suzann Pettersen or Lydia Ko.

"It's not important to me, they don't need any more pressure than they already put on themselves.

"If she wins 10 times this year or not at all, I just want to make sure that this is a great opportunity for her and she has her best golfing years as an LPGA member."

Whan said Ko would also go through the LPGA's "rookie orientation" which includes training in handling the challenges of TV interviews, sponsor hospitality and pro-ams.

And Ko, who is still juggling schoolwork with her playing career, said she would play a restricted schedule this year rather than try to tackle the 30-plus tournaments on the LPGA tour.

"I played well in my first event in Bahamas and then I've been playing well the last couple as well. So I've just got to be confident -- I've still lots to go," she said.

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