Lydia Ko the pro asks the taxpayer to chip in

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2014

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Golfer Lydia Ko is asking for more taxpayer support since turning pro than she received when she was an amateur.

The 16-year-old prodigy can now reap big financial rewards from professional tournaments, as well as millions in management contracts and endorsement deals.

She pocketed NZ$181,000 for winning the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters tournament in Taiwan last year and so far this year has collected more than $280,000 in winnings.

As an amateur, she received $115,000 from High Performance Sport NZ in 2012 and $185,000 last year, chief executive Alex Baumann said.

New Zealand Golf's application for this year is for $208,000 to pay for her coaching, physiotherapy and mental skills training.

The total includes $115,000 to pay for transport and accommodation to tournaments for Ko and her mother.

NZ Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said that, despite Ko's new professional status, the funding was still necessary, and the application was lodged while she was still an amateur.

"There will come a time when Lydia becomes self-sufficient.

"Currently that's not the case ... there's a lot of work going into ensuring she's in the best possible shape to win gold [at the Olympic Games] in Rio."

Baumann said High Performance Sport was assessing Ko's needs and would make a decision next month.

Murphy noted it was common for professional athletes to receive taxpayer funding and he believed the opportunity to make money in a particular sport should not be a major consideration in an application. "If a [golf] player plays really well and wins a lot of tournaments, then it can be [lucrative] but the reality is even the very best players don't win all the time."

In the past, High Performance Sport has also funded pro golfers Michael Campbell, who won the US Open in 2005, and Phil Tataurangi.

Experienced golf coach Mal Tongue said Ko's sponsors, Callaway Golf and ANZ Bank, would be paying her performance bonuses on top of a retainer, which was likely to be going up, as she was now ranked as high as No 4 in the world.

"It's potentially in the multimillion-dollar region but that's only potential," he said.

"She'll be very comfortable."

Other experts had estimated the teen could pull in up to $6 million in endorsement and management deals after turning pro. Tongue said about half of a player's earnings went in management fees and expenses, such as caddies.

"The bigger you are up the ladder, the less you have to pay for things. She wouldn't be getting appearance fees as such but she'll be getting accommodation at certain events. She'll be getting well looked after."

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In terms of tournament winnings, she has earned more than $250,000 on the LPGA circuit since January and collected more than $30,000 for second place at the NZ Open in February.

This is despite some mixed results - a month before tying for second place in Arizona's JTBC Founders Cup and earning $98,000 in March, she placed 19th and took no share of the prize pool in Thailand. At her latest tournament last week, she finished 29th, earning a little under $20,000 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

She is scheduled to appear at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii next week.

- The Dominion Post

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