Lydia Ko does her best to cope with rising profile

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2014
Lydia Ko
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
STAR ATTRACTION: Lydia Ko was in a relaxed and confident mood while playing in yesterday's New Zealand Women's Open pro-am at Clearwater.

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Lydia Ko is about as comfortable as any 16-year-old could be dealing with everything that goes with being a world class sportsperson.

But she admits coming to grips with her ever-increasing public profile is not easy.

"The biggest thing is media attention," she told a packed room of media on the eve of her New Zealand Women's Open title defence, which started this morning at Christchurch's Clearwater Golf Club.

"People want interviews and more interviews. Before, we said 'yes, yes, yes', I'll do everything, but now we have to say no. It's a kind no, but you can't please everybody.

"And sometimes I walk along and people stare at me and I think 'what's wrong?', but I think they're just trying to figure out whether it's me or not."

Ko is a pro when it comes to dealing with the outside pressures; she speaks well at functions, media conferences and always has time for fans.

But this weekend will test her to the limit. Everyone wants a piece of her and on top of that she has the pressure and expectation to deal with.

The 16-year-old Kiwi golfing phenom is a raging hot favourite to defend her title - the TAB has her at a staggeringly low $3 - and you get the feeling most just expect her to win.

But you lose much, much more than you win in golf no matter how good you are, and Ko knows that.

"I know that if I have a really good couple of rounds I'm in contention to win but I'm not there to go, 'oh, I'm going to win every tournament'," said Ko, who was coincidentally sporting red and black nails on both hands.

"It would be great to win every tournament but that's not really realistic so [it's about] just putting myself in good form and just giving myself opportunities."

As has always been the case, Ko seemed unperturbed by the pressure.

"Last year I think [the marketing slogan] was 'Ready, Set, Ko' and this year it's 'Here We Ko Again'. So it's quite cool to have my name and maybe it was a really good last name to have.

"It's just playing my own game. I can't control what somebody else does and there's a lot of great competition out here. So I'm just going to try my best and if somebody makes an eagle, that's out of my control."

Ko said she would love to play in every New Zealand Women's Open but she can't guarantee it. She acknowledged there might be some years when she can't come home, such was the nature of professional golf.

We've seen it in the men's open, with the likes of leading pros Danny Lee, Tim Wilkinson and Michael Campbell rarely making the trip back home.

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"I'm not too sure; as it is tournaments don't clash and hopefully it doesn't," Ko said.

"Sometimes it might be hard but it would always be great to come back home and play nice courses like here at Clearwater. I really don't know what my schedule is going to be like."

As it stands, the 54-hole NZWO, co-sanctioned between the Ladies European Tour and the ALPG Tour, fits well with her schedule as it's just prior to the Australian Open, which is an LPGA Tour-ALPG Tour event.

This is Ko's rookie season on the LPGA Tour and she plans to buy a house in Florida, near to new coach David Leadbetter's team, with her only visits back home likely to be over summer.

She plans to do most of her schooling by correspondence this year, with an increased playing schedule now she's in the pay-for-play ranks.

She also made a statement about the recent coaching split with long-time mentor Guy Wilson, and hooking up with Leadbetter's team, but otherwise would not take questions on the decision, which is understood to have not been her call.

Ko said Leadbetter's team "didn't want to make huge changes. It's about fine-tuning things and big changes can lead to big stuff but it was just little bits at a time."

- The Press

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