It's hard to have a conversation with most 16-year-olds. They live in a different, typically far more insular world than adults. Their lexicon is totally different compared to someone more than twice their age (though I'm getting close to that, yikes).
It's especially different, then, to have a conversation with a 16-year-old golf prodigy. They don't seems especially relatable. Their lives have been more extraordinary just a fifth of the way through their life expectancy than the sum of what most people will experience crib to grave. There are only so many things the normal can ask the brilliant and hope to connect.
Maybe that's why there was a deja vu about Lydia Ko's first news conference at a tournament as a professional on Wednesday at the LPGA Tour's CME Titleholders in Naples, Fla. A lot of what was asked of the Kiwi teen was precisely what Michelle Wie was asked the first time she appeared in front of the media at an event as a pro in 2005 at the Samsung World Championship.
Compare and contrast the two and their responses -- like both would for a high-school midterm essay -- and you'll also see some striking similarities and differences in what was said. Teens may not typically have a case of verbal diarrhea, but what Wie and Ko said sets a baseline for Day 1 as a pro, a member of the paid set. But looking at words on paper or listening to words on tape can't be used to extrapolate some kind of prediction about how Ko's career will pan out, or how Wie's will continue to play out. Ko already has two LPGA wins, curiously both in one of the two tournaments, the Canadian Women's Open, Wie has won in her pro career. Wie is still finding the way to unlock her potential. We're maybe just beginning to fully realize Ko's.
All that stipulated ahead of time, the topics du jour eight years apart are the same for a n00b teen playing their first professional event.
Of course, each was asked about their "Eureka!" moment when the realized it was time to turn pro.
Wie: Of course, I mean it took a lot of planning. It took a lot of discussion, talking about, you know, what are the cons and what are the pros of turning pro, and all of a sudden I said, I think I’m ready for it, I really want to do it, and I think I made a pretty good decision.
Ko: Well, this year I played pretty much all professional events apart from one, so that was kind of a start to that decision making. Yeah, I was pretty proud with the way I played the last couple of months, so yeah, we just talked over it with my mom and my dad and we came up with that decision. [Follow up on if there was specific moment] No, not really, no. Some people around me said, oh, you should just turn pro after your win at the Canadian Open, but at that moment I thought it was just another surprise week and I kind of wanted some more proof. Second place at Evian definitely helped me with making the decision.
Will it be different playing for money instead of for free? Is there more pressure?
Wie: I was practicing really hard playing for $5.00 incentives, you know. My dad would give me $5.00 if I make a birdie and stuff like that. But my stakes are going to be a lot higher right now, so I’m practicing really hard. I don’t really see it as pressure, I see it as incentive to practice harder.
When did it hit you that you're really a pro? What's different?
Wie: I don’t think there is going to be that much difference. I was so excited when I got my name on my bag. Usually when you are an amateur, you can’t have your name on your bag, and then my Sony bag came in an it had my name on it. I was so excited.
Ko: I think the biggest thing was when you go through customs and they check your passport and they ask why you're here, I said I'm going to play golf over here, and the guy said, oh, are you a professional? I was like, yeah, I am, just turned professional. So that was the biggest thing. I never said that before. I think playing the pro-am yesterday kind of started my week saying I'm officially professional now.
How has your game evolved, and what do you still have to work on?
Wie: I think that I’m a lot more mature than last year. I have grown up a lot since last year. My game hopefully is more consistent than last year. I just have been working really hard over the past year so hopefully it’s gotten a lot better.
Ko: I think my strongest part is drive off the tee. I don't think I miss that many fairways, which is good because I'm in a better position to have a better opportunity to make birdie or similar score. Sometimes people say, oh, what's wrong with your putting and so on. Actually I was putting at home and this little boy said, oh, you're not putting good these days. And I thought oh, that's sad. But yeah, I think putting, it may not be my best part of my game but I think it's the part where I've had the most improvement the last couple months.
The obvious question: Can you drive?
Wie: Well, I get my license next week, so I’m kind of nervous and excited about that. And hopefully I I’ll get a car. Hint. Maybe, hopefully.
Ko: No. I'm a crazy driver.
What's it like to hang around normal kids, worried about acne, crackling voices and the aforementioned driver's license? Won't you feel like you're missing out?
Wie: Well, I go to school full-time, so I had to spend a lot of time with them. They are asking me to buy lunch a lot more often now. But there are certain things that I envy about them. But, you know, looking at my life and their life, I’d rather live my own because I love traveling. I love to do what I do. It’s my dream job. I love this. I mean I love to hang out with my friends a lot more often. But I do get to hang out with them a lot when I go back home. It’s really good because I get all of the good stuff.
Ko: To me golf is the number one priority. I played it for the last 11 years and I'll do that for many more years to come. Yeah, I am going to miss some stuff, but when you don't do stuff at the end of the day you'll get something in the end, which is a good thing. Not only me, but the support team back in New Zealand and my family, they've been working hard, so I don't want to let them down. I'm just trying my best now to be more grown up and be a good professional.
Let's just hope that Ko's first tournament as a pro goes better for her than it did for Wie, who was disqualified for taking an improper drop spotted and reported by SI's Michael Bamberger.