25 Nov 2015

Is New Zealand at risk of losing Lydia Ko?

4:47 pm on 25 November 2015

OPINION: In the past three years, Lydia Ko's meteoric rise to the top of world golf has been nothing short of extraordinary.

She is still just 18 years old, but has already achieved more than most LPGA members could even dream of.

A major, 2014 LPGA Rookie of the Year award, 2015 LPGA Player of the Year award, two Race to CME Globe titles and probably the biggest of the lot - the World Number One crown.

Lydia Ko poses with the Rolex Player of the Year trophy, which she won this week.

Lydia Ko poses with the Rolex Player of the Year trophy, which she won this week. Photo: AFP

Of course there's all the money she's won, but knowing Ko, I don't suspect she is a woman who is driven by money, so it's not too relevant how much she has got.

This year Ko won six times: five on the LPGA Tour and once on the European Tour, which happened to be the New Zealand Open.

For the past couple of years, Ko has also shown her loyalty to New Zealand by returning to her adopted homeland to play in the national open, something she doesn't have to do. But because of her love for Aotearoa, she goes out of her way to give her fans what they want.

Lydia Ko lines up a putt in Malaysia, 2015.

Lydia Ko lines up a putt in Malaysia, 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The New Zealand Open is played at the end of February and beginning of March, which is awkward timing for Ko as there are six LPGA tournaments played at around the same time.

It seems a little rich to me to expect someone so young to commit to seven weeks of travel and golf, without some time out.

While many may think the life of a professional golfer is glamourous and fun, it can be far from it.

Professionals spend the majority of the year living out of a suitcase, flying from city to city - and sometimes even country to country - to play in four-round tournaments.

Then there are the sponsorship commitments, media requests and, of course, the 40 hours of practice the average pro does a week to keep on top of their game.

Lydia Ko at the Canadian Open

Lydia Ko at the Canadian Open Photo: AFP

It is no wonder so many professional golfers retire in their thirties, as many suffer burnout - and Ko is no exception.

Ko made the conscientious decision just before last weekend's Tour Championship to take a two-week break, so she was able to give her best shot at winning the Race to CME Globe title.

The decision paid off as she ended up winning the title by the narrowest of margins over her nearest rival Inbee Park.

When I found out she'd won I was extremely proud of her efforts but, when I went onto different media outlets and read comments from the public like "so does that mean she'll now pay the taxpayer back for all the money we gave her to get there", I was a little aggrieved.

Ko is one of the greatest ambassadors we could have for our country in terms of sport.

Lydia Ko with her trophy after winning the Evian Championship on September 13, 2015 in the French Alps town of Evian-les-Bains.

Lydia Ko after winning the Evian Championship. Photo: AFP

Golf is a big tourist attraction and, luckily for New Zealand, we have some of the best courses in the world here on our doorstep. With Ko flying the New Zealand flag, her promotion of our country is paying back more than any money we gave her while she was developing her game.

There's a large proportion of New Zealanders who have a lot of pride for what Ko is doing for our country. There's also a handful who feel the need to have a crack at her profession and lifestyle any chance they get.

I fear that, if this continues, Ko may not return to our shores to play or even visit, which would be a real shame. She is not only a great ambassador for our country, she's also a great role model for our children.

She is humble, polite, easygoing and driven. All the characteristics a parent would love for their child.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.