How do you top 14 LPGA Tour wins, two majors and more than $7 million in earnings in your short 19 years on earth? You do as Lydia Ko did, and win an Olympic silver medal.
As Ko ascended the first Olympic podium for women’s golf in 116 years, her emotions were obvious. She said as much herself Wednesday during a conference call ahead of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, where she will defend her 2015 title (and yes, she brought her medal to Canada).
“It’s the highest one up there,” Ko said when asked to rank the medal among her achievements. “I can’t take away the two majors, those are very special to me. And even though it’s a silver, it’s just as special, even more so.”
In Rio, Ko was stuck in neutral until Friday’s third round, when she surged into contention with a 65 that was kick-started by a hole-in-one at the par-3 8th, the first of her career. That ace will stand as a special memory. So will the thrill of competing among the world’s greatest athletes.
“The whole experience of being in Rio among other Olympians was a dream come true,” Ko said. “Just to be there and seeing other athletes in the New Zealand dining area was really cool. Seeing them right in front of me, I thought I was looking through a TV.”
Ko noted that a second-place finish on tour would typically leave her disappointed. But at the Olympics, there were no hard feelings over a runner-up.
“The Olympics embraces each and every player,” Ko said. “Sometimes you can get carried away by loss, but no matter if you’re a medalist or not, people at the Olympics are all winners. There’s great spirit. It’s more about competing and being there than medals and results.”
Ko’s silver could resonate in her home country. New Zealand is home to 393 courses with approximately seven million rounds played per year, but golf still has room to grow. Ko said she’s hopeful that participation numbers among juniors will rise post-Rio. At the very least, she made some new fans — her fellow Olympians.
Richie McCaw, the former captain of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, followed Ko’s group during the first round. Ko wasn’t aware he was watching, but she was happy to make at least one birdie over the seven holes he tagged along.
“All different sports were there, and when you see all of them, especially because I’m not home often and don’t get to cross paths with them a lot, I was in the fanzone,” Ko laughed. “I was fan-girling.”
The night she won silver, Ko didn’t remove her medal for anything other than a shower, and she wore it proudly while attending other events.
“Right after everything finished up on Saturday, we went and watched athletics,” Ko said. “I couldn’t believe that watching all of those ceremonies and seeing those athletes on the podium, that I was actually on one myself a few hours before.”
In four years, perhaps she’ll stand atop another one.