Big brands pass on signing new pro Lydia Ko

USA BOUND: The LPGA Tour has waived its age requirement for Lydia Ko, clearing the way for her to join the tour full-time.
USA BOUND: The LPGA Tour has waived its age requirement for Lydia Ko, clearing the way for her to join the tour full-time.

In the same week that Lydia Ko made her boldest statement yet about playing for New Zealand for life, it can be revealed that that very move could cost her big money.

It is understood that at least a couple of major golfing brands have passed on signing Ko, partly because they do not believe they will get a financial return from her.

The 16-year-old, who turned professional last week, yesterday received her waiver to play on the LPGA Tour for 2014.

She then said she wanted to represent New Zealand at the Olympics.

"I've been playing for New Zealand the last couple of years, and I haven't made any plans to change it at all," she said.

"I love it here, the culture and the country itself." But while she is big news in New Zealand, it is understood that there are concerns about her global appeal.

That seems strange as she's won four professional tournaments including two on the popular LPGA and has often been referred to as women's golf's hottest property.

But an industry insider said there wasn't the endorsement bang for the buck in women's golf.

"Especially from someone in New Zealand," he said.

When asked if Ko's mother and manager Tina Hyon was expecting and/or asking for too much from endorsement deals, the insider said: "that could well be the case".

He said when Hyon worked out why companies "might be" passing on her daughter, she would look at switching allegiances back to Korea, the country of Ko's birth. "She [Hyon] will at least investigate it I believe." It makes sense that Korean companies would be more interested in Ko if she were playing as a Korean, though there are plenty of strong women golfers from Korea.

Ko yesterday said she had yet to sign a management deal or any major endorsement deals, while Hyon was unable to be reached for comment.

LPGA tour commissioner Mike Whan granted Ko her waiver to join the tour next year, but Ko was unsure how many tournaments she would play.

She will go back to complete her Year-13 year at school next year while playing, so is not expected to take on a full schedule.

Whether or not current coach Guy Wilson stays on is also up in the air, she said.

Wilson said he expected to continue to work with Ko, but yesterday she said the details were not finalised.

Wilson could continue to work with Ko remotely.

She seems set on retaining the services of caddie Micky Millburn who was on her bag at the last major of the year, the Evian Championship where she finished second.

Millburn will carry her bag at Ko's first tournament as a professional, the Titleholders' tournament in Florida next month, but Ko said a long-term deal with him had not been worked out either.

As for the money, Ko said it might affect the way she plays initially.

"Yeah, I think definitely it will be [on my mind] for the first couple of tournament.

"When I was an amateur playing the professional women's tournaments, each putt didn't mean much except I would go up or down the leaderboard, but now they're pretty much worth a thousand dollars. But yeah, I've just got to learn to not think about that and just enjoy myself and know it's a great opportunity." Ko has only completed one of her Year-12 exams which she is in the middle of, but is fizzing about the opportunity to play in the Titleholders' tournament.

"I'm super, super excited about playing it," she said.

"I really wanted to last year, but couldn't because of exams. Luckily I finish early this year so I can play."

Fairfax Media