Gifford: Sacking reveals Lydia Ko's steely edge

PRO KIWI: Lydia Ko has been a success since turning professional.
PRO KIWI: Lydia Ko has been a success since turning professional.

Lydia Ko's coach Guy Wilson isn't the only one stunned by his sudden sacking.

It's a rare moment in sport when you get a glimpse of the ruthlessness in the pysche of many great performers, but this was one.

Ko has always presented so charmingly, that axing the man who has taken her from a kid, as he phrased it, "barely as tall as her putter," to the starting line of a huge professional career, was as startling as discovering Snow White actually drives the Seven Dwarves to work at the point of a gun every day.

For someone like Ko it's at once a blessing, and, now, a mild curse, that she's always been perceived as the sweet, bookish girl next door, who you knew you could leave baby sitting your kids without fear of a scummy boyfriend sneaking in, or the liquor cabinet being raided.

People in the media, like myself, love performers like Ko, who have an engaging personality. We build on the romantic notion talent in sport somehow indicates charm, or a generous nature, so there's been a constant flow of sweet praise for Ko.

A few days before poor Wilson was axed one writer was saying of Ko, "She is funny, grounded and, as her Twitter profile proclaims, a 'proud Kiwi'." Said another, "With modesty and composure well beyond her teenage years, this year for Ko was all about teeing up what promises to be a spectacular career. And she's done it brilliantly."

Not quite so much with the Wilson affair. Among the carefully manicured comments after the announcement, the country's top male golfer, Michael Hendry, captured the raw emotion of the moment when he tweeted "Isn't it amazing how big business and big money can make people forget who really cares about them."

The reality with many sportspeople who aspire to being not good, but great, is that while they'll probably be described by journalists as "driven", "committed", and "determined", you could just as easily say "self centred", "fanatical", and "obsessed."

Try being around a world class athlete in any sport as an event draws near and watch how their universe closes down to nothing but competing. I've seen a glazed-eyed All Black ignore a greeting from his wife as he walked from the bus to the changing room.

And when you think rationally about it, could anyone really believe Lydia Ko became such a brilliant golfer without being prepared to work like a maniac, and being fixated on success?

She's the kid who didn't go to the school dance, and was at the putting green instead of the mall, which means she now stands on a first tee confident in the knowledge nobody else in the field has worked harder than she has.

So should any of us have really thought that having committed so much of her life to golf she would even hesitate making a decision about her coach that might mean even a tiny improvement for her play?

An adolescent sports star, as Valerie Adams has said, can get by on natural talent. What separates the adult successes from the failures, she believes, is how much effort they're prepared to put in, how much they'll give to be the very best. It may mean, in Adams' case, living on the other side of the world in Switzerland to be with the coach she needs.

Or, in Ko's case, so she can have a coach basically on call in the States, having to handle the first even vaguely negative publicity she's had in her short career.

Time will tell if the Wilson decision has been correct. But one thing we do know for sure. There's sharp-edged steel behind the Ko smile.

Sunday Star Times