Ko a no-go for NZ Open, may go for Pro-Am

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 08:38 27/09/2012
Lydia Ko
Reuters
ONE NO, ONE MAYBE: Lydia Ko will not play in the men's New Zealand Open at Clearwater but is mulling an invite to play at the NZPGA Pro-Am in Queenstown.

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Teenage golfing prodigy Lydia Ko won't be playing in the men's New Zealand Open at Clearwater but will consider an offer to play in the PGA Pro-Am Championship in Queenstown.

Following the 15-year-old's recent success at both amateur and professional level during the past three months, the idea of asking Ko to play at the New Zealand Open in November was mooted at New Zealand Golf HQ.

But chief executive Dean Murphy quickly knocked the notion on the head, noting it would "not be the right thing to do" to exploit Ko for the sake of the national open.

"We considered it, and we've certainly had dozens and dozens of calls from people suggesting that she should play," he said yesterday.

"But Lydia has a lot of things going on right now and school is a major priority for her in the next couple of months. Putting additional pressure on her for the benefit of the New Zealand Open is not the game we're in."

Having Ko line up against the men would have been a coup for ticket sales and the profile of a flagship tournament that lacks star power, but even if the proposal had been put to Ko, she would have said no.

"The last thing we'd want to do is something like Michelle (Wie)," said Ko's coach, Guy Wilson, who has been protective of his star pupil when the notion of playing men's events has arisen.

"Lydia has kept her focus really well and not let her head get too big which I think was Michelle's downfall, committing to things that set yourself up for failure. If Lydia went into a men's event everyone would still expect her to make the cut and compete and do really well, regardless of how tough that would be."

Essentially, Ko would have everything to lose and little to gain, much like American teen star Wie when she unsuccessfully dabbled in men's events.

As Wilson notes, Ko would be expected to compete - and in all probability she would - but the length of a men's open course is too much for a 15-year-old girl, irrespective of her deadly accurate ball-striking or nifty short game.

There are some holes, like the par-five fifth into the wind, at which she could struggle to reach to the fairway off the back tees, and she'd be at a significant disadvantage hitting woods into par-fours where men were hitting eight-irons.

As well, there's the not insignificant matter of her being in the thick of exam time during the late-November tournament - the 50-60 hours a week she has been practicing golf will have become 50-60 hours a week of study.

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However, a formal offer has been presented to Ko by NZ PGA Championship Pro-Am organisers, who are keen to lure the Aucklander to The Hills near Queenstown in February.

She played in the pro-am event off the men's amateur tees earlier this year and has again been extended an offer for next year, but tournament director Michael Glading has also offered her a place in the four-round professional event, which, like the NZ Open, is sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia.

The more relaxed nature of the championship where corporates and celebrities mix with the professionals, as well as the less demanding course setup, might provide the perfect platform for Ko is she decides to test herself in a men's event.

"They've approached us but we won't commit unless we're 100 per cent confident and the course is set up so that she may be able to do all right," Wilson said. "But we'll consider it."

Glading said they would be delighted to have Ko play in either the pro-am or the main event, but he stressed no pressure would be placed on her to play.

"We're very relaxed. If she did play, the main thing would be that Lydia enjoyed her week and didn't feel as though there was any pressure. The relaxed nature of the event would help that."

The course is naturally set up easier and shorter than the NZ Open, to avoid lengthy delays with amateurs and corporates playing alongside the pros.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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