Lydia Ko primed to start 2013 campaign

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 14/01/2013
Lydia Ko
Fairfax NZ
TEENAGE PRODIGY: Lydia Ko became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour in 2012.

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After a couple of reluctant days off when Kiwi kids her age are enjoying a summer holiday, golfing sensation Lydia Ko is primed to return to work in Melbourne tomorrow when the Australia Amateur championships mark the start of her 2013 campaign.

The 15-year-old New Zealand sportswoman of the year candidate, and world's leading female amateur, has not played a tournament since the Swinging Skirts Ladies World Masters in Taipei early last month - not that she has compromised her renowned work ethic over the festive season.

"The only reason she got a day off on Christmas Day was because the courses were closed," said her coach Guy Wilson, the director of instruction at the New Zealand Institute of Golf.

"She had New Year's Day off as well, otherwise there's been no real relaxing -- it's been eight hours a day, seven days a week."

Ko, the defending Australian Amateur champion, has divided her "down" time between the Institute in Albany, the Peninsula Golf Club and her home club, Gulf Harbour.

Now her attention turns to the familiar Commonwealth and Woodlands sand belt courses where she defends her crown and spearheads the New Zealand women's challenge in the team event.

From Melbourne she heads north to Sydney where she defends the NSW Open at Oatlands from January 25 - the launching pad for a stellar 2012 that also saw her become the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA tournament when securing the Canadian Open.

Ko also won the 2012 US Amateur crown - the most coveted win of her career to date - and also lined up in the British and US Opens.

The part-time student at Pinehurst College on Auckland's North Shore also has the New Zealand Open at Clearwater, its Australian equivalent in Canberra and the LPGA Tour's Thailand Open on her schedule before returning home for the NZPGA Pro-Am at The Hills in Queenstown in late February.

Queensland's Royal Pines, venue of the Australian Ladies Masters, has dropped off her itinerary - recognition of the diminutive Korean-born right hander's growing profile.

Wilson explained the Masters missed the cut because it is not an LPGA Tour sanctioned tournament.

"We're being quite choosy this year because there's a lot more invites.

"There's a lot more opportunity and it's a lot easier to get an answer to an event straight away," he noticed.

"Often they're (organisers) coming to us now and there's a lot more funding there now for her to do it."

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Ko received an early Christmas present last month from High Performance Sport New Zealand -- $230,000 worth of funding for the next two years - a cash injection that makes it easier for her to participate in prestigious tournaments in the United States and Europe.

"She play in all the Majors this year," said Wilson, who was delighted Ko would play in the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship for the first time.

The Evian in France has also been added for the LPGA's Majors for the first time this year while she will also tee-off in the KIA Classic in Los Angeles - before the Kraft Nabisco - and also venture to Hawaii and Japan.

Wilson said Ko was relishing the opportunity to take on the sport's biggest names on a more regular basis before she turns professional after continuing her education at a college in the United States.

He was confident she was capable of handling the pressure but did acknowledge it was crucial she protected her status as the world No.1 amateur.

"It's all important for her to continue to be the world No.1 amateur and have really good finishes so when she does turn pro she is as marketable as she is now," Wilson said.

"The good thing is she's playing in a lot more events with real profile, which should help her as well."

The Australian Amateur might not fit that description but it will enable her to get back into the swing of competitive golf.

New Zealand team for the Australian Amateur Championships from January 15-20:

Lydia Ko, Munchin Keh, Julianne Alvarez, Vaughan McCall, Blair Riordan, Tyler Hodge, Bradley Kendall.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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