Lydia Ko must be NZ sportswoman of the year

REWRITING HISTORY BOOKS: Lydia Ko poses with the trophy with two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
REWRITING HISTORY BOOKS: Lydia Ko poses with the trophy with two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Hard luck to you, Val Adams and Lisa Carrington.

Your wonderful Olympic gold medals would, in any other year, mean you were in a straight head-to-head shootout for the New Zealand sportswoman of the year gong and, possibly, the overall prize at the next Halbergs.

But if those on the judging panel can see past their Olympic blinkers - this hasn't always been easy for them - a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was born in South Korea, but calls Auckland's North Shore home, will usurp you both.

Olympic gold medals take pride of place in New Zealand sport and so they should, given how much time and effort goes into winning them.

Adams' shot put gold, her second in succession, and the way she achieved it will go down as the story of the Olympics. She's also a much-loved Kiwi.

Carrington's kayaking gold was thrilling, returning New Zealand to the glory days of Ferguson and McDonald. She also became the Kiwi face of the Games.

But without intending to disrespect their achievements, Ko's feats in 2012 are a level above.

She kicked off the year by winning the New South Wales Open in Sydney, at age 14 years and nine months, becoming the youngest player of either gender to win a professional tournament in the long and storied history of golf, one of the most popular sports in the world.

That result, a few days after winning the Australian Amateur Championship, made headlines around the world in a way a Kiwi Olympic gold medal would rarely do. Such was the magnitude of her feat, the Auckland-based golfer, who moved to New Zealand with her family when she was five, featured in the top-10 sports stories on ESPN that day.

But that was only the beginning.

After taking some time out to work on some swing changes with her coach, Guy Wilson, and also fitting in some schoolwork, Ko has taken the United States by storm.

She finished as the top amateur at the US Women's Open, her first major championship, in tying for 39th, before winning the US Amateur Championship that eluded her last year, becoming the second youngest winner in the tournament's 118-year history with a 3 and 1 victory over American Jaye Marie Green in the 36-hole final in Cleveland.

That win secured her the Mark McCormack Medal for the world's best amateur for a second successive year, topping a ranking system including 3600 players from 88 countries.

She first scaled the world No 1 heights, as a 13-year-old, last April. Should she maintain her amateur status till she's 18, which she has previously indicated, there's a prospect that, when she turns pro, she could have spent more than a quarter of her life as the world No 1.

So onto her greatest achievement, today in Vancouver, when she stormed to victory in the Canadian Open, becoming the youngest player, and the first Kiwi, to taste victory on the LPGA Tour, widely regarded as the sport's top professional tour.

Nineteen of the top 20 professionals in the world were in the field but they couldn't keep up with a 15-year-old workaholic who simply loves the game of golf but misses having sleepovers with her friends.

Ko is known for accuracy off the tee and a brilliant short game, but her maturity, composure and cool temperament are her biggest assets, and they were to the fore as she blitzed the back nine under immense pressure.

It's a remarkable achievement in a truly global sport - shot put and kayaking cannot hold a candle to golf in this respect - and one which cannot be topped by our Olympians.

The scary thing is, there are still four months left this year - what more will Ko achieve before year's end?

Fairfax Media