NEW Zealand's teen phenom Lydia Ko will tee it up as a pro for the first time Thursday, but the golf star hasn't let the hype go to her head.
Dubbed one of Time magazine's most influential teens, Ko seems surprised to find herself grouped with such luminaries as chart-topping New Zealand singer Lorde.
"I don't even know why I'm there to be honest," Ko said Wednesday, as she prepared for the LPGA's season-ending Titleholders. "I don't know what I've really done. I've just done the things I love to do."
The 16-year-old has consistently made headlines in a stellar amateur career that included a string of youngest-ever achievements.
Her 2012 victory in the Canadian Women's Open made the 15-year-old the youngest LPGA Tour winner -- a feat she backed up by defending the title this year.
Her achievements made it easy for LPGA tour commissioner Mike Whan to waive the tour's minimum age limit and grant Ko LPGA member status for 2014.
Ko acknowledged Wednesday that her change in status is just starting to sink in. Quizzed at customs in the Los Angeles airport, Ko said she was entering the United States to play a golf tournament.
"The guy said 'Oh, are you a professional?' I was like, 'Yeah, I am...' That was the biggest thing - I never said that before."
She has given it plenty of thought, taking her time with a life-changing decision.
Even her successful title defence in Canada hadn't convinced her because "at that moment I thought it was just another surprise week and I kind of wanted some more proof," she said.
A runner-up finish to Norwegian veteran Suzann Pettersen at the Evian Championship, pretty much clinched it, and Pettersen is sure it's a sound move.
"She's already proven she's good enough to be out here on a regular basis. She's probably won more events in the few professional events she's played than most of us."
That said, Pettersen said she hoped Ko would be given a chance to grow into her new role.
"I know her passion for golf is fantastic and she's a great girl. Don't forget, she's only 16. Give her a break as well."
Ko says she expects a steep learning curve in her rookie season, especially when it comes to managing her time and the demands of more travel and tournaments. It's a new set of problems she can't wait to tackle.
"I was just super excited to hear the word 'yes,'" she said of the call on her LPGA membership petition. "I was really excited and I didn't know really what to think. I had kind of a mental breakdown -- but in a good way."
Ko, who was born in South Korea and moved as a youngster to New Zealand with her family, still has details of of her professional life to sort out.
Her parents are still mulling sponsorship and management deals.
But Ko, currently ranked fifth in the world, knows exactly where she wants to go.
"One of the big things is I want to be known quite well to the spectators for being very nice and very friendly," Ko said.
"I obviously want to be the world best golfer in the future, but I think personality-wise is actually quite important to me."
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