Golf: Charming Ko a Kiwi treasure

Ko's natural warmth has already disarmed the Kiwi public.  (Photo by Joseph Johnson/Getty Images)
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 talent.

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

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