Golf: Lydia makes her biggest splash

By Amelia Wade, Harry Pearl

She may be the world's No 1 amateur golfer but Aucklander Lydia Ko has turned down the chance of turning pro and earning millions from endorsements because she wants to focus on her studies.

The 15-year-old, who made history with her assured Canadian Open win yesterday, told a packed press conference she intended to finish school before she pursues the big money on golf's premier circuit.

"I'll still remain an amateur and then finish high school and then go to college in the States," Lydia said.

She conceded "this is a great win", but didn't think it would affect her career path.

Her victory - only the fifth by an amateur in the history of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour - overshadows New Zealand's previous best finish at a tour event, Lynnette Brooky's 12th-equal at the US Open in 2002.

Yesterday, praise flooded in for Lydia, a student at Pinehurst School in Albany, including from New Zealand golfing legend Sir Bob Charles, who said:

"I have watched most of her rounds on The Golf Channel here in Florida. She played impressive golf to break many records. I am very proud of her performance, as I am sure all New Zealand golfers will be as well."

But Sir Bob, who for six years after his first NZ Open win (as an 18-year-old) in 1954 continued to play as an amateur, was also quick to praise Lydia's decision to concentrate on her education.

"I am pleased to hear that she wants to stay amateur for a few more years and that she intends to get an education behind her. While she has endless possibilities with her golf game, you never know what is going to happen ..."

But in turning down the chance to go pro, Lydia will miss out on millions in endorsements and hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.

NZ Golf spokesman Peter Thornton said that when Lydia did choose to turn pro, sponsors and people wanting to associate themselves with her wouldn't be hard to find.

"It was reported [Rotorua's] Danny Lee got about $10 million US when he turned pro, just because of his record as an amateur player. The women's game certainly doesn't have that type of money but she'll probably be a guaranteed millionaire when she does turn pro."

As an amateur, Lydia wasn't able to collect the $300,000 purse for winning the Canadian Open. She also missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars when she won the NSW Open as a 14-year-old in January.

Mr Thornton said Lydia was looking at doing her tertiary studies at Stanford, the top golfing university she visited last year. Tiger Woods studied there from 1994 to 1996.

Marnie McGuire, who is widely regarded as New Zealand's most successful golfer on the LPGA tour, said despite being ineligible to collect the winner's cheque, Lydia will be well supported for the rest of her life

"Yes, she has missed out on the $300k but it is never about the money ... It is about the achievement of winning and, in Lydia's case, creating history."

Lydia's school teaches pupils aged 5 to 18, and any who are too young to understand her achievements are being told to compare her to an Olympic gold medallist.

Pinehurst principal Sherida Penman Walters said they were bursting with pride.

"We're so pleased for her - she's just a great person and is such a wonderful role model for all sports. Her dedication and commitment - to practise and practise and practise - but she's so modest and humble. You would never know what she's done when she's walking around school."

Ms Penman Walters said Pinehurst was looking forward to having the dedicated student back at school. And in the meantime, the many Excellence in Sport certificates Lydia has been awarded in absentia at school assemblies continue to build up.

- NZ Herald

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