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Let's savour Ko's successes and let her develop on her own terms

Even though this correspondent is still hanging on grimly to his 30s, the pace of the modern world and the speed of technological change seems to accelerate the ageing process to the extent where I'm now wheezing about like a fumbling old colonel trying to fathom out his grandson's latest piece of digital gadgetry.

Lydia Ko hits out of the rough at the first hole on the final day of the ISPS Handa Australian Open at Royal Canberra Golf Club. Picture: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

It doesn't help matters when, having finished regrouting your crow's feet, you switch on the television and are confronted by rising teenage stars of the golfing world: young, confident, upwardly mobile bundles of exuberance who bounce about with boundless joie de vivre on their merry way towards global domination.

Take Lydia Ko, for instance. At 15 years of age, the New Zealand amateur already has won three professional titles over the past 13 months and, inevitably, is being billed as the game's next big thing. It's only a matter of time before the suffix "mania" is attached to her surname. So will this "Ko-mania" come to pass? Well, the bandwagon is already rumbling along at a fair old lick and everybody is now rubbing their hands with relish at the prospect of her turning professional and conquering all before here.

Therein lies the danger. It's not enough for us to watch on from a distance, appreciate her abundant qualities and let her develop at her own pace. That just takes too much time in this breathless era when the journey from a cot in the maternity ward to the first tee happens in the blink of a backswing. We seem that desperate to anoint the next superstar that we forget one thing; Ko is still just a teenage lassie with plenty of time on her side. To suggest that she will just simply turn pro and dominate for years to come is as hard to swallow as a dry slab of horsemeat in a stale bun.

After winning the New Zealand Open a week ago, Ko was right in the thick of it again in the LPGA Tour's season-opening Australian Open last Sunday and was tied for the lead with six holes to play. She eventually carded a closing 76 and dropped back into third but there was certainly no shame in finishing behind the champion Shin Jiyai, an 11-time winner on the LPGA circuit, and the world No.1 Tseng Yani, who took second. The fact that some observers commented that she "only" managed third highlighted the staggering levels of expectation that surround her.

With seven top-10 finishes in her 13 starts among the professionals, Ko could have earned over $½m and the cash-crazed critics have already questioned her decision to stay in the unpaid ranks.

Ko, herself, has always stated that she doesn't have a problem with remaining an amateur and she has indicated an enthusiasm for attending a college in the United States.

Her coach, Guy Wilson, made something of a reckless remark at the weekend when he said that "wasting two years at college could be a disadvantage." A disadvantage to whom? Those who are frothing at the mouth at the thought of wringing every possible dollar out of this potential money-making machine, perhaps? A decent education and the development of life skills in the college environment would surely do her no harm and at least there would be something to fall back on because, in this most fickle of pursuits, the best laid schemes gang aft agley.

Of course, Ko is not your average 15-year-old and when she does decide to make the pro leap, she will be showered with the kind of riches usually reserved for a Sultan's daughter. Sponsorship deals will be tossed about like confetti at a wedding, in much the same way as Michelle Wie was lavished with multi-million dollar corporate contracts amid the hysteria of her own teenage years.

At just 23, Wie, who partnered Ko for the first two rounds in Australia and missed the cut, has been harshly judged and written off in many quarters, despite the fact the she has graduated from Stanford University, has notched a brace of LPGA Tour titles, has played in two Solheim Cups and still has her whole career in front of her. That is all easily forgotten by those who dubbed her a failure before she really had the opportunity to succeed. Amid the frenzied hype that accompanied her as a child prodigy, many simply lost sight of the bigger picture.

Ko could have all of this to come. For the past couple of weeks, she has been playing with all the carefree abandon of someone who knew she had nothing to lose. As soon as she turns pro, the pressure mounts and every shot is accompanied by the presence of the dollar bill. Ko has already demonstrated how talented she is. Let's just savour her successes and let her develop on her own terms. Only then can we make a real judgement.

It's been five months since we were all left enthralled by the magic of the Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup. This week, we get the chance to revel in the cut-and-thrust of the matchplay format again when the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship is contested in Arizona. Nothing beats man-to-man combat in the golfing arena and, in a staple diet of 72-hole strokeplay slug-athons, the fare on offer this week remains one of the tastiest dishes on the menu.

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