Whose star will shine brightest?

Dottie Pepper breaks down professional golfer Lydia Ko's strengths and weaknesses.

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Expectations for the current teen sensations in women's golf seem to be exceeded only by the humorous takes on youth being wasted on the young.

"I don't know if any of them can even rent a car yet," ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper said with a laugh.

Or as Golf Channel course reporter Karen Stupples said, "It's so exciting when you look at [women's golf] and how young it is and how many quality players there are who are so competitive. I feel so old."

Given the sheer talent of Lydia Ko, 16, Charley Hull, 17, and Lexi Thompson, 19, it's no surprise many are looking to this threesome to take the game by storm.

But who will be the best? At least one of them isn't afraid to hazard a guess.

"I want to be the best golfer in the world," England's Hull told The Guardian in December. "I want to do that by the time I'm 21. Until then it's a learning curve, but I'm going to get much better."

That thought alone is frightening, and it can be applied to all three players, who already have combined for five LPGA tournament victories and 31 top-10 finishes on their respective tours.

"You have to have the aptitude and mental tenacity on top of the tools, and they all seem to have the fire and desire," said Golf Channel course reporter Kay Cockerill.

"... Sometimes that flame flickers after five or 10 years, but as long as they have that determination and will to get that ball in the hole and be the best they can be, all three will be players we're going to watch for a long time."

Here's a look at how they stack up.

Lydia Ko

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Lydia Ko, 16, has a remarkably even temperament and there's an evenness to her game; she rarely plays poorly.

At 16, Ko may have received her first taste of what life will be like as an LPGA touring pro when she heard about the negative reaction from fans back home in New Zealand over leaving longtime coach Guy Wilson and changing to one based in Florida.

"A lot of people are saying, 'You're making big changes. After turning pro, you're doing this, this and this different,'" Ko said before teeing off at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in late January, her first tournament as an LPGA rookie. "Yes, but I love a challenge."

Already No. 4 in the Rolex world rankings, and with two LPGA titles as an amateur and nine top-10 finishes thus far, Ko also has a new caddie and new clubs and will have to work through many of the same adjustments Hull will face in terms of handling the added commitments and fuller schedule as a pro.

"It's certainly a concern," said Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin, "but it seems like her camp has these things pretty well managed. The bigger concern, which I thought Michelle Wie had, is when you sign your name in a few places for a lot of money and it's not as much of your dream as your responsibility to someone or some company to be who you are, that's an adjustment."

What the experts marvel at, and said they do not see changing, is the natural ability and ease with which Ko plays the game.

Her short game, her ability to hit with touch and feel so well at her age puts her ahead of the other two in that regard. And she has a resume of winning she has built up over the last three, four years that reminds me of Annika, Lorena [Ochoa] and Tiger.
Kay Cockerill

"I always talk about Lydia like I talk about Annika Sorenstam," Stupples said. "Every time I play golf with Lydia and we get to the end of the round, I think, 'Well, she played fairly well.' Then you go, 'Wow, that was a 65?'

"You don't realize it because there are no fireworks, no ooh and ahh factor. It's very boring, steady, which is exactly the way Annika played. And the next thing you know, they shot a 65."

Pepper calls Ko "the best putter of all three," but it only starts there.

"She's fundamentally so sound," Stupples said. "Swing-wise she's consistent, and putting-wise she has a silky-smooth stroke. If stats were kept for her last year, Lydia and Inbee Park would be pretty close and everybody knows where Inbee Park is putting-wise, so Lydia has all that going for her and she has already won two LPGA titles so she doesn't have to feel she has anything to prove."

"I don't think we've ever seen her play poorly," Rankin said, "and not many people in the game can say that. She has an extraordinary evenness to her game and that's something a lot of people never learn and it just seems to come to her naturally."

Ko's strengths, they say, are an outgrowth of her maturity as a player.

"Her short game, her ability to hit with touch and feel so well at her age puts her ahead of the other two in that regard," Cockerill said. "And she has a résumé of winning she has built up over the last three, four years that reminds me of Annika, Lorena [Ochoa] and Tiger [Woods]. They just made it their business to win. That was their thing. They were used to finishing on top, and that's a habit that's ingrained at a very early age and keeps on going along, which is what Lydia has done."

That pattern also seems to alleviate pressure, Stupples said.

"Lydia is very serene when she plays," she said. "She's like, 'Whatever happens, I'm OK. A double-bogey? It doesn't matter, I'll just make a couple birdies.' She's just so calm and nonchalant and fundamentally so sound."

Ko, a slight 5-foot-5, is not a particularly long hitter, but Stupples said that while she will no doubt gain some strength, hitting the ball farther is not necessary.

"Her game is long enough," she said. "What she has right now is so solid and consistent, why mess with it?"

Pepper echoed those thoughts, and said new coach Sean Hogan and others at the Leadbetter Golf Academy need to do little more than tweak.

"I think the big thing to avoid for her is getting too technical," Pepper said. "I know she wants to get better, but one thing she has to do is stay true to herself and realize nothing is broken."

Lexi Thompson

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Lexi Thompson, 19, is fit and strong and can hit the ball a mile -- and that can get her out of trouble.

In her fourth year on tour, Thompson said she feels older than she is, and she certainly has had more ups and downs than either Ko or Hull. But Thompson also has three tour wins and 13 top-10 finishes as well as a world ranking of 10th to show for her experience, and having just turned 19 in February, she still qualifies as one of the teenage prodigies.

"A year ago, she wasn't really in a good place psychologically," Pepper said. "I don't think she liked golf, but a lot has changed. She has become more independent and kind of figured out what's best for her. She got herself in a positive frame of mind and has done a much better job the last four or five months of not being her own worst enemy."

Thompson played in the 2007 U.S. Women's Open at age 12 and predictions of greatness had already begun. Rankin also said she has seen Thompson mature over the past year.

"I think she came out a very good player, a player with tons of potential," Rankin said. "But as good as she was, she was a pretty raw talent and just in the last eight months, she has become a lot more polished.

"I think she's learning a lot more about how she plays and how she wants to play and that you can't just hit it as hard as you can and one day shoot a low number and the next day you don't. I think she has figured out that she's playing for a living."

For Lexi, the sky is the limit. It's a constant process and she'll continue to work on putting and her short game to where she feels comfortable with it. I don't think Lexi is a natural putter like Lydia is. She's a ball striker and hits the ball miles and that's how she scores.
Karen Stupples

Thompson's strength, as Rankin said, "is her strength," with a long game that rivals the power of anyone in women's golf.

"But she has not been, at least since I've known her, a very strong putter," Rankin said. "I would say her entire short game has now started to develop and certainly in these last months, she just looks like she's figured out things."

Pepper agreed that Thompson's short game is the area for improvement.

"She hits shots that a lot of other female players can't," Pepper said. "She's in terrific shape, works hard on her fitness. If something needs to get better, it's her chipping and pitching. ... She needs to get more balance and be more creative."

Stupples said while power players also tend to be streaky, and Thompson's unorthodox swing can produce periods of inconsistency, it can also cover up other mistakes.

"You can putt well, then for three to four weeks go back to missing a few, but because she's so long, she can hit par 5s in 2 strokes and she's always going to be able to get away with it," Stupples said.

Clearly, they say, Thompson has enormous potential.

"For Lexi, the sky is the limit," Stupples said. "It's a constant process and she'll continue to work on putting and her short game to where she feels comfortable with it. I don't think Lexi is a natural putter like Lydia is. She's a ball striker and hits the ball miles and that's how she scores.

"Lydia and Lexi do it completely differently in terms of how they get the ball around the golf course."

The point is, they both do it exceptionally well. And like Hull, Thompson has a particular trait that Rankin thinks sets them above the rest.

"I put some of that [competitive] characteristic in Lexi on the fact that she's played golf with two brothers since she was a little girl," Rankin said. "I think that makes you more competitive. I think it makes you a stronger golfer.

"The physical strength she has in the game, we see it all the time with girls when they decide they can do anything he can do. It just seems to toughen them up and put them in a different place than someone swinging the club beautifully."

Charley Hull

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Charley Hull, 17, introduced herself to the American public by waxing Paula Creamer in the Solheim Cup.

One of the first things Hull did after getting the best of Paula Creamer in leading her European team past the U.S. at the Solheim Cup was ask for the LPGA veteran's autograph.

Even Creamer couldn't resist Hull's sincere exuberance, signing the ball, and was more than gracious afterward.

"Charley's going to be around for a long time," Creamer said.

Indeed, Hull, who had five second-place finishes in her first six tournaments on the Ladies European Tour and went on to be named the 2013 rookie of the year, certainly appears to have a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

"I'm very impressed with her physical talent," said Cockerill. "She seems very strong, has a good golf swing, hits it a long way and exhibits a lot of fearlessness. She plays like she's with her best buddies at home and is impervious to the bright lights and the big stage.

"Just the fact that she played so well in that singles match [in the Solheim Cup] and took down Paula, who's no slouch, was so impressive."

I'm very impressed with her physical talent. She seems very strong, has a good golf swing, hits it a long way and exhibits a lot of fearlessness. She plays like she's with her best buddies at home and is impervious to the bright lights and the big stage.
Kay Cockerill

Hull, who turns 18 on March 20, attributes her toughness to her grandmother, who escaped from a Siberian labor camp during World War II. She will need that, Stupples said, as she goes for her first pro victory.

"Now the question is, can she win and can she deal with that?" Stupples said. "When you're second so many times, you do start to wonder, 'When is it going to be my turn? What do I have to do?' And you can force it, push a little bit.

"She has to sit back and say, 'I'm 17, 18, I don't have anything to prove. I have years ahead of me and I don't have to be on the same pace as Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson.' She needs to stay patient with it."

The experts' biggest concern with Hull is the increased travel and somewhat unpredictable schedule in which she will have to rely on exemptions on the LPGA Tour. Also, like Ko, there will be adult responsibilities.

"The adjustment from amateur to professional golf is big," Cockerill said. "The whole aura and feeling for the game can change. The responsibility to sponsors and public and media are different."

Hull has decided not to go to Q-school, which Rankin said is a good move.

"If it were me, I'd look for every way I could to avoid Q-school," Rankin said. "With the exemptions she can get, she can make the money she needs to make to get her card. If you're good, you have everything to lose and not much to gain."

Beyond that, said Rankin and Pepper, Hull has a complete game and may only have to work on keeping an even keel.

"A person like Charley, you have to learn to temper your excitement, just to keep your energy up if nothing else," Rankin said. "It's one thing for the Solheim Cup, where adrenaline is everything for three or four days. But over the long haul, every year, you have to have the maturity to pace yourself.

"But she has good people around her and is very close to her dad, who is very thoughtful about what's good for her. I don't see them making too many mistakes."

Pepper also preached patience.

"I don't think it's a case of being too ambitious," she said, "but what are you going to do if you get there? What's next? Don't be in such a big hurry that you don't know what the heck to do with it. Enjoy the ride on the way up. Players like Karrie Webb said she wished she had enjoyed it more on the way up."

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