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Born in the capital city of the Republic of Korea, Seoul, Ko moved with her family to New Zealand when she was just a baby and became a citizen of her adopted country at the age of 12. A precociously talented player, she notched a string of records as she embarked on a golfing career that has so far brought her 12 titles on the LPGA tour, including two of the five majors in women’s golf: the 2015 Evian Championship and this year’s ANA Inspiration.
Unable to conceal her excitement at taking part in the Rio Games, the 19-year-old Ko said: “Ever since they announced that golf will be in the Olympics I said, ‘Hey, I want to get myself on that team’.
“Just to be able to compete in the Olympics and play for your country in front of an international stage, I think that will be a dream come true for all the athletes to say, ‘Hey, I’m an Olympian’. If you end up getting a medal that’s great, but to say I’m an Olympian, I think that’s a pretty proud thing to say.”
When she steps out on the course at Marapendi, the young Kiwi star will be striving to succeed the USA’s Margaret Abbott, who became women’s golf one and only Olympic champion in Paris 116 years ago. The sport disappeared from the Olympic programme altogether after St Louis 1904, and was only readmitted at the 121st IOC Session in Copenhagen in October 2009.
A hugely talented youngster, Ko attracted national media attention when taking part as a seven-year-old in the 2005 New Zealand Women’s Amateur Championship, a tournament in which she acquitted herself well. Precise and powerful with a fluid swing, Ko was a 14-year-old amateur when she became the youngest player in the history of the game to win a professional tournament, a victory that came on the ALPG (Australian Ladies Professional Golf) tour in January 2012.
Another record came Ko’s way in August that year. Aged 15 years and three months, she became the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA Tour event, lifting the Canadian Women’s Open title, which she successfully defended by a five-stroke margin 12 months later.
The New Zealander turned professional in 2014, at which point she began her climb to the top of the world rankings. Having geared up for Rio with her second major win, at the ANA Inspiration in April, Ko can hardly wait to get to Brazil.
“I’m really glad golf is in the Olympics because I had no chance of being an Olympian in anything else,” she explained. “I mean, I’m not very good at any other sports.”
However, as soon as she steps out onto the fairways, she is in a league of her own.
She has also been avid fan of the Olympics since a very young age, attracted by their sheer variety and potential for surprises. “Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to be on and you go, ‘Oh, there is synchronised swimming’,” she explains. “There are all these sports. I’ve just turned the TV on and I’ve looked and I’ve Googled the person that’s been on there. And I go, ‘Wow, that person has got a record,’ and you learn about these things.”
Youngsters around the world will soon be watching her in action in Rio, and it is Ko’s hope that they will be inspired to learn a few things about a game that has brought her so much success.