What if the Lydia Ko-show becomes no-show?

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2014
Lydia Ko
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
STAR ATTRACTION: Lydia Ko in a relaxed and confident mood playing the New Zealand Women's Open pro-am at Clearwater.

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The future of golf's New Zealand Women's Open is guaranteed for the next two years in Christchurch. Its success however, depends on one teenage girl.

Organisers New Zealand Golf will argue otherwise, as is their job, but Lydia Ko is as crucial to the tournament as clubs and balls.

New Zealand Golf boss Dean Murphy rightly pointed out the tournament attracted booming crowds before Ko made it big and they hoped it would in the unlikely situation she did not return.

However, it's hard to agree. The crowds this weekend at Clearwater were phenomenal, but they were all there to see Ko.

More than 6000 watched as she missed a birdie putt on 18 which cost the world No 4 a shot at a playoff with eventual one-stroke winner Mi Hyang Lee.

Punters were five deep, sometimes more around greens, as Ko shot 70.

On the other side of the course, Lee broke the course record with a sublime nine-under 63 in front of only her playing partners and her father carrying her bag.

If Ko wasn't there, it's hard to imagine even 20 per cent of the gallery bothering. They're used to it being her tournament now; it would be very difficult to go back to a non-Ko event for them too.

Ko has made it clear she wants to play the tournament every year, but only when it fits her schedule.

Tournament organisers and everyone involved need to make sure she's on the tee here no matter what.

Scheduling will be key, as it is already. Ko has obligations and the lure of big money and big ranking points to play for on the LPGA Tour.

New Zealand Golf must continue to make sure this tournament remains aligned with the LPGA Tour's Australian Open, being played next week in Melbourne.

That has its own difficulties. The LPGA Tour is women's golf's most important and only after that schedule is set can other tournaments work out when best to hold theirs.

The LPGA's 2014 calendar was confirmed only in November, making it tough for an early-season event such as Christchurch's to sneak in.

But needs must and who is New Zealand Golf to argue. They do want the tournament to get back in between the Australian Masters (this week) and the Australian Open because that will help entice more top players to New Zealand.

Whether that remains enough to keep Ko down here is up in the air.

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The demands on her time and energy at home are huge compared with overseas. The money on offer here will be no carrot as her earnings skyrocket, either.

New Zealand Golf doesn't pay appearance money though it can help some players out in other ways.

Ko didn't receive any of that treatment this week in Christchurch, but then, she is already on their books and receives plenty of financial support, including travel and accommodation, from the government-funded organisation.

That will peter out over the years as she becomes more self-sufficient. New Zealand Golf and New Zealand in general still benefit from Ko playing well overseas, so the help it gives to make the transition from amateur to professionalism easy is necessary and an investment.

But money might not be the key. The Ko-show was the only one at Clearwater people wanted to watch.

New Zealand Golf needs to find a way of guaranteeing that she wants to make it a permanent fixture on her calendar.

It's a tough ask, as Ko has all the cards in a very one-sided poker game. Lucky she's such a nice young lady then, eh?

- The Press

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