Ko still lining up options as she faces pro turn

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012
Lydia Ko
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
GLOBAL STAR: Lydia Ko says her parents will probably be the ones to choose the time when she turns pro.

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Over the past 12 months, this 15-year-old has gone from parochial prodigy to rising star of global repute.

And now the full, professional breakthrough of Lydia Ko is starting to come to the boil.

Becoming the youngest winner of a professional women's golf tournament, claiming January's New South Wales Open, Ko's profile went international in August when she won the Canadian Open and US Amateur Championship in the space of a fortnight.

Amateur status prevented the Canadian Open's $365,000 prize from actually being banked, and with invites to major championships already coming in, Ko admits flagging her amateur status is becoming increasingly tempting.

"I think I would have won US$300,000 with the Canadian Open win. Obviously, actually collecting that would have been nice," Ko told the Sunday Star-Times.

"I don't count how much I would have won, because I'm obviously not going to get it. The differences between amateur and professional, especially in golf, is very strict," Ko said.

"It's tempting and I do sometimes think about it. My mum and dad will probably be the ones to choose the time when I do turn pro."

Frustration is understandable. On top of "lost" six-figure earnings, Ko's already been invited to play in Majors - and she's not just making up the numbers, she's pushing the world's best players for the honours.

After tying for 17th in this year's British Open, and tying for 39th in the US Open, Ko is widely expected to receive invites to all four Majors in 2013. And having experienced the biggest stages on offer, national tournaments aren't going to cut the mustard any more.

"I was a bit nervous going into my first Majors this year. At the US Open I was lining up my putt on the first hole and my hands were shaking. I just couldn't putt my line straight," Ko said.

"That was the first time I actually felt like that. I'd been nervous before other tournaments, but that was different. That was nerve-racking."

Ko is also becoming accustomed to the recognition that success brings, both from members of the public she has never met, and people she regards as sporting icons.

American Michelle Wie, who turned professional aged 15, burst on to the scene in 2005 and has been a strong influence on Ko's career so far.

But Wie is no longer just a hero, she's a bona fide opponent.

"I saw Michelle for the first time at the US Open. I was like, ‘Oh my God'," Ko said.

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"I got her autograph and everything. When we saw each other at the British Open she congratulated me on winning the Canadian Open - that was quite cool. I get recognised in public now, too, and there's a lot more media attention. People I don't know come over and say ‘hi'. "It's quite cool to get the attention, it's OK. I think I've gotten used to it, it's kind of the process I really have to go through.

"When I came so close to winning the New South Wales Open in 2011, that's when I was let out into the international stage, media-wise as well. It was really interesting.

"With that and then winning the US Amateur, that's when I was really shown to the world, not just within Australasia.

"Tiger Woods obviously had to go through all these stages to be at the top."

Despite tasting the professional life, Ko knows on the other side of the coin is further education, almost certainly in the form of a college career in America.

But that's not to say that, like Wie, education can't be woven around relinquishing amateur status.

"College is definitely still something I want to do, but I'm really not sure on the way I will do it," Ko said.

"I could just enrol and do it after I turn pro, or I could do a year and do some later, or I could do it all at the same time. There are many options and I just have to see which is the right one for me."

So far, Ko says she holds her US Amateur Championship victory dearest.

But, bigger events are already firmly on the radar, specifically, representing New Zealand at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio - which Ko would be eligible for regardless of amateur or professional status.

"I'm most proud of the US Amateur, it's not easy playing a nine-round event in one week against all of the best amateurs in the world," she said.

"Even though professionals were in the NSW and Canadian Opens, being matchplay, the US Amateur's a little different. You have to play well every day to win.

"Obviously the Majors are the biggest goal for any golfer, but the Olympic Games are definitely a goal of mine.

"Getting the gold medal would be huge. I will be working very hard to achieve that."

Leaving New Zealand yesterday to compete in a tournament in Taiwan, Ko cited overseas travel as her main area of adjustment before taking the professional plunge. But it remains to be seen how many lessons Ko, and her family, feel are left to be learned in the amateur realm.

- Sunday Star Times

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If she is able to, when do you expect Lydia Ko to win her first major?

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