Lydia Ko may lose some of her public funding

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2013
Lydia Ko
Getty Images
SWEET SUCCESS: New Zealand's Lydia Ko kisses her trophy Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters tournament in Taiwan. She also pocketed $180,000.

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Lydia Ko's public funding is under review and almost certain to be reduced in the wake of her first big win as a professional golfer.

High Performance Sport New Zealand confirmed yesterday it would continue to support the 16-year-old girl-wonder through to the 2016 Olympic Games.

However, HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann said the funding body needed to be realistic about her "actual needs" after she pocketed $180,000 for winning the US$1 million Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters tournament in Taiwan. Ko received $115,000 from the sports funding body last year and was set to get the same next year before she turned to the professional ranks.

That level of support has taken on a questionable hue after she banked $20,000 for finishing in a tie for 21st in her pro debut, then won her second. "That money was mainly focused on international travel for Lydia to attend tournaments," Baumann said. "We are now discussing with New Zealand Golf in terms of having a transition ... what are her needs for this year?"

Baumann said HPSNZ did not want to suddenly cut Ko's support.

"That's what we're discussing at this time. We don't have to [pay the full $115,000 in 2014]. But it's a discussion we have to have with New Zealand Golf. We need to take a look at the needs but I would think we'd transition out gradually."

Being a professional did not exclude athletes from funding and Baumann said Ko was far from alone in that category in New Zealand.

"The difficulty is where do you draw the line. Obviously Val [Adams] does well in sponsorship and does get some prizemoney but we still support her.

"It's looking at demonstrated need and how we can help.

"Ultimately 2016 is our goal and we are aiming for 14 plus medals and want to see that happen.

"Golf is part of the Games and right now she's quite committed to competing at Rio."

NZ Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said he hoped Ko would continue to be supported by HPSNZ regardless of her status.

"You look at our gold medallists [in London] and nearly all of them were professional athletes with HPSNZ support," he said.

"Lydia's funding from the Government was an investment.

"We've finished year one and finished well in advance of our goals.

"We've got another year next year to continue her development on the path to Rio. They are still an investment partner and hopefully will be for a while to come."

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That point is worth debate for a star with the potential to become one of New Zealand's, and possibly the world's, highest earning female athletes. Whatever the future holds, Baumann, NZ Golf, and long-time financial supporter, philanthropist Sir David Levene, all confirmed they would not be seeking any financial repayments.

"But no, no, absolutely not.

"I don't expect anything [in repayment] and I don't think I should," Levene said. "My payback is the pleasure of my involvement ... It's a great thing for golf and a great thing for New Zealand. We are very fortunate to have her.

"I'm still a great supporter of hers but now that she's professional of course she doesn't need my financial support, not by the looks of the way she's going ... I have an immense amount of admiration for her and respect."

Murphy said the intangible returns on NZ Golf's investment in Ko were impossible to measure and had already been significant.

"She's invested a lot in her own development over the last six or seven years, as has her family, so there is a lot probably to get back to even par there," he said. "We certainly don't have any payback clauses in our contract with her.

"Michael [Campbell] continues to do so [give back] with his scholarship and mentoring of young players; Bob Charles continues to do so; a lot of players do.

"Lydia has already started helping us promote the game through the Love Golf stuff and she's doing a lot of work to help us grow young players."

- The Dominion Post

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