Lydia Ko NZ golf's stand-out performer

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2012
Lydia Ko
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
GLOBAL STAR: Lydia Ko has been guaranteed $230,000 in public funding split over the next two years.

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Lydia Ko was again, easily, the highlight of the New Zealand golfing landscape for 2012 and the pint-sized 15-year-old continues to be the sport's brightest star in this country.

In a year where Michaels Campbell and Hendry both improved and Danny Lee narrowly missed out on his PGA card, Ko was still comfortably the sports standout.

In January Ko became the youngest ever winner - male or female - of a professional tournament when, at the age of 14, she won the New South Wales Open.

That record has since been broken, but Ko wrote herself on to another page of the record books with the Canadian Open win in August.

That title, at a tournament that used to be a women's major and still attracts the best golfers in the world, made every headline back in New Zealand and every news bulletin.

But the significance of the victory was still underplayed.

She became the youngest ever winner on the LPGA Tour - by more than a year - and the first amateur to win on the tour in 43 years.

That just doesn't happen anymore and perhaps more than any of Ko's other impressive achievements, announced her as a serious golfing force for not just the future, but the present.

While she missed out on her share of the US$2m purse at the Canadian Open, Ko just kept padding out her golfing CV.

She became the first Kiwi women to win the 112-year-old US Amatuer Championship, she won the Australian Amateur and won the low-scoring amateur titles at both the US and British Women's Opens.

Then, in October, Ko easily took individual honours at the Espirito Santo World Amateur Team's Championship in Turkey.

Ko beat the next best player in the 165-strong field by a whopping eight shots.

In the professional ranks, New Zealand's top-ranked male Danny Lee was one agonising stroke away from securing full playing rights on the PGA tour.

In the cut-throat final stage of Q-School, Lee, who had struggled with the odd par-five all season, did it again at the wrong time.

After shooting up the leaderboard in search of a 2013 PGA card, Lee went backwards in the sixth round, a double-bogey seven standing out like a heart-breaking reminder of just how close he'd come.

Manawatu's Tim Wilkinson also bowed out at the final stage meaning no Kiwi will call the world's biggest tour their home next year. Closer to home Hendry continues to plot his way up the rankings.

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He finished a close second on the Australian PGA Order of Merit behind Peter Senior and played his way into a home on the Japan Tour in 2013 where he will join David Smail.

Mark Brown (5) and Gareth Paddison (10) also finished in the top 10 on the Australian Order of Merit.

Ryan Fox enjoyed a strong rookie year as a pro, though will be the first to admit, there's room for improvement while two thirds of New Zealand's Eisenhower Team, Mat Perry and Ben Campbell have since turned pro.

Hamilton's Perry, Masterton's Campbell and Southland's Vaughan McCall finished a disappointing 24th at the Eisenhower, in Turkey.

Ko and her Espirito Santo Trophy teammates, Emily Perry (Hamilton) and Munchin Keh (Auckland) finished fifth, also in Turkey.

The Kiwis again failed to fire at their own Open at Clearwater which was won by virtually unknown Aussie amateur Jake Higginbottom, but Hendry had already won the New Zealand PGA at The Hills.

Bay of Plenty won their seventh men's interprovincials title in 11 years while the Auckland women successfully defended their title without now professional Cecilia Cho.

Arguably the best golfing Christmas present went to Cathryn Bristow; the North Harbour professional secured a full card on the Ladies European Tour.

A good year for: Most years are going to be good when you have the talent Lydia Ko has, but this was another cracker with her first win in a professional tournament in January, followed by a second in the huge Canadian Open on the LPGA Tour. Michael Campbell also showed us what most had forgotten, he's pretty handy at times.

A bad year for: The New Zealand Open - None of the big guns organisers went after took the bait, top Kiwi drawcards Danny Lee, Campbell and David Smail were all missing and the tournament was won by an Australian amateur no-one had heard of.

Crystal ball gazing: Ko has a lighter golfing workload to focus on school, but still features heavily and will reassess her plans to enter the pro-ranks, Campbell slips back down the rankings and a Kiwi - Ryan Fox - finally wins the New Zealand Open.

- Fairfax Media

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