Ko deserves the best NZ Golf can give her

IAN ANDERSON
Last updated 08:41 06/10/2012
VALUABLE PROPERTY: Lydia Ko is New Zealand’s Golf’s precious jewel
VALUABLE PROPERTY: Lydia Ko is New Zealand’s Golf’s precious jewel.

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Should the remarkable Lydia Ko so wish, she could hold New Zealand Golf to ransom. It is highly unlikely given her seemingly implacable demeanour, but teenage girls have been known to do much worse in fits of pique.

This year, Ko's extraordinary run of results has made her one of the most influential figures in New Zealand sport, and it's impossible to imagine any other Kiwi sportsperson being more important to their code than the diminutive 15-year-old.

Athletics has the colossus that is Valerie Adams, who is not just physically head and shoulders above her peers, but bestrides the sport of track and field as its overwhelmingly dominant personality.

However, Athletics NZ does have fellow shot-putter Jacko Gill ready to climb into the rarefied air of the elite to give Adams company.

Rowing has Mahe Drysdale as its figurehead, but that sport is also endowed with a welter of world-class performers.

Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter are talismanic figures for rugby, but such is the conveyor belt of talent that there is rarely any concern over finding the next big thing for the All Blacks.

Ko, though, appears to be the sole goose capable of producing the golden egg for NZ Golf and undeniably has the potential to be the game's figurehead for the next 20 years. In doing so, she could push her under-achieving male counterparts into the shade, avoiding the scrutiny they and NZ Golf should be receiving for their woes.

Our top-rated men's player is Danny Lee, who sits at No 201 on the official world golf rankings. Lee is currently struggling to maintain his spot on the United States PGA Tour and his lack of results and constant battle to find consistency is troubling.

Next-best behind Lee is Hamilton's David Smail (358), whose trademark success in Japan has begun to falter. Fellow Hamiltonian Steve Alker is at 562, and while he had a fantastic moment in the sun at this year's Open Championship in England, he's made little impact on the Nationwide Tour and, like fellow 40-something Smail, may have his best years behind him.

Former Major winner Michael Campbell slums it at 634 and while there were brief signs recently that he's not finished, few would expect a return to the highest level.

There are 12 Australians ahead of Lee in the world's top 200, and 31 Aussies in the top 300, yet the very realistic proposition looms that we will have no New Zealanders on either top tour in the US or Europe next year.

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Our expectations should be tempered by history to some extent. While Bob Charles was world-class for many years and won a major, and Campbell's US Open title in 2005 was due reward for someone who had contended with the best before, success otherwise has been moderate and spasmodic, through the likes of John Lister, Simon Owen, Greg Turner, Grant Waite, Phil Tataurangi and Craig Perks.

But even their triumphs were a lofted wedge above what we're experiencing now, as Tim Wilkinson and Alker battle on the second-tier Nationwide Tour while Lee may join them there in 2013.

Lee's travails are a cautionary tale that Ko isn't guaranteed to continue to sweep aside all she faces. He became the youngest winner of the US Amateur Championship in 2008, was ranked the world's best men's amateur and won a co-sanctioned European, Asian and Australasian Tour professional title aged 18.

Yet with what Ko has already achieved this year - becoming the youngest to win a professional tour event at 14, winning on the US LPGA Tour at 15, claiming top amateur prize at the world teams champs to confirm her No 1 amateur world ranking - she became our most successful woman golfer while still at school, dwarfing what the likes of Marilyn Smith, Marnie McGuire and Lynette Brooky have done.

Ko appears to be taking a wise and carefully plotted path towards her bright future. She's not hurrying to join the pro ranks and wants to attend Stanford University to study sports management or psychology.

NZ Golf must promise her the world to help her in whatever path she takes, so they can reap what they've done for the pint-sized prodigy and also revel in the rewards.

- Waikato Times

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