Ko's natural warmth has already disarmed the Kiwi public.
(Photo by Joseph Johnson/Getty Images)
Lydia Ko might not realise it, but she can play a pivotal
role in New Zealand society.
After emigrating from South Korea in 2003 and gaining New
Zealand citizenship in 2009, the 15-year-old has become a
poster child for multiculturalism in sport.
Ko's precocious skill as the youngest woman to win a Ladies
Professional Golf Association title when she took out the
Canadian Open in August is one thing; to do so in such a
measured, unassuming manner is another. Ko's natural warmth
has already disarmed the Kiwi public.
Sure, New Zealanders love a winner, but Ko's temperament and
discipline have been exemplary. Her ability to articulate her
teenage thoughts - when English is not her first language -
puts many monosyllabic sporting oafs to shame.
Wayne Shelford re-ignited awareness of Maoridom with his
renditions of the haka; Val Adams and Jonah Lomu are pillars
of the Tongan sporting community through shot put and rugby
respectively; Ross Taylor has highlighted Samoan cricket
The pressure on Ko will only increase. Already many of the
world's highest profile media organisations like the BBC and
ESPN have acknowledged her efforts. The World Golf Hall Of
Fame asked for a piece of memorabilia after her Canadian Open
win; a left-handed glove is now in their collection.
High Performance Sport New Zealand even chose to name-drop Ko
in their December future investment table which recognised
golf's inclusion in the 2016 Olympics: "Golf is an Olympic
sport with an individual athlete with a moderate probability
of podium success. Investment [$2.3m until the end of 2014]
is to support Lydia Ko to maintain her No1 status on the
amateur world rankings, move within the top 30 positions on
the professional world rankings, and track towards Rio."
Ko received a further gauge of her increasing clout when
taking a phone call from the Prime Minister after her win at
the New Zealand Women's Open.
She's now a potential vote winner too. She has to avoid the
path which leads teenage prodigies to meltdown; cue Tiger
Woods, Jennifer Capriati and Zac Guildford. She needs to
channel more Sachin Tendulkar, Rafael Nadal and Sarah Ulmer.
Last weekend's win has taken Ko to world No30 but it was her
post-victory tears of joy which resonated: "It means a lot
and makes it more special to be the first New Zealander to
win the women's open. It is always special to make history. I
guess I broke history again."
Such a rare emotional response contrasted with an on-course
countenance that rivals the best poker champions.
Ko's relationship with Guy Wilson appears to be pivotal to
her success. Wilson has coached her since she arrived in the
country, aged six. The pair love to challenge each other -
they have even been spied having hula hoop contests at
training - and Wilson, who has a fear of heights, still owes
Ko a bungee jump after her Canadian Open win.
In addition to the obvious work ethic and self-belief, Ko
looks like she loves golf, but it has not totally consumed
her life. She still found time to comfortably pass her year
11 exams and has sacrificed more than $500,000 in
professional golf tournaments by remaining amateur.
- Andrew Alderson