Women’s game keeps getting younger

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Her plan is to stay an amateur _ she passed up the $300,000 prize _ finish high school and go to college. She qualified for the season-ending Titleholders event in Florida on the LPGA Tour, though Ko sounded like she wouldn’t be making the trip.

“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,” she said. “Yeah, I need to pass my exams and get good results for that.”

Judy Rankin, who won the Missouri State Amateur at 14, was in Vancouver for the Women’s Canadian Open as an analyst for Golf Channel. What she saw was a fluid swing packed with ample power, a teenager leaning on a local caddie four times her age to read the tricky greens, someone enjoying golf.

She can’t help but wonder if Ko was inspired by what she saw on TV.

“We have really gotten deeply into the generations that have seen all the best players in the world any time they want to see them on television,” Rankin said. “And no one is a better imitator than a child. Everything is broke down, everything is in super slo-mo. When I was a little girl, I saw Patty Berg one time at a clinic when I was 12 years old. I don’t think I would have seen anybody else who was really good, a professional player.

“Imagine how much that has changed since the `50s.”

Rankin says there are more examples of teenage success in the women’s game because they physically mature earlier, though there are increasing examples of males making this kind of progress. Think back to June, when 14-year-old Andy Zhang became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open, and 17-year-old Beau Hossler found himself atop the leaderboard at Olympic Club for a brief moment on Saturday.

Ryo Ishikawa won his first Japan Golf Tour event at 15. Matteo Manassero won twice on the European Tour before he turned 18.

Hossler, coming off his U.S. Open performance, failed to win the Junior World Championship that featured neither Webb Simpson nor Graeme McDowell, much less Woods. Ishikawa is still trying to bring his game to the biggest stage. Thompson hasn’t won on the LPGA Tour this year. Paula Creamer, who won her first event right before high school graduation, hasn’t won since her U.S. Women’s Open title at Oakmont two years ago.

Age no longer is a big deal. It’s what they do going forward, and how long they can sustain it, that determines greatness. Rory McIlroy comes to mind. He won his second major, both by eight shots, earlier this month at the PGA Championship. He’s only 23.

Ko won against the best competition in the world on the LPGA Tour. Her next test is at Royal Liverpool for the Women’s British Open that starts Sept. 13.

Can she win again? In a major?

“It wouldn’t be the biggest shock,” Rankin said. “This was no fluke.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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