Golf: Money is not everything for Ko

By Kris Shannon

Team Ko have a plan for the teen sensation and grabbing major purses is not part of it.

Lydia Ko will continue to play as an amateur. Photo / Getty Images
Lydia Ko will continue to play as an amateur. Photo / Getty Images

The prizemoney passed up by golf prodigy Lydia Ko grows with every piece of history made - but don't expect that to change for another couple of years.

The 15-year-old, who last weekend became the first Kiwi woman to win the New Zealand Open, would have earned more than $500,000 for her exploits, with her amateur status preventing her from claiming a cent.

Ko has now won three professional tournaments from 12 entered, all by the age of 15.

By comparison, Tiger Woods failed to win a single tournament as an amateur and secured his first career victory at 21.

Most teenagers scraping by on pocket money and part-time wages could come up with half a million reasons for Ko to turn professional, but Ko's coach said his star pupil would continue to turn down the oversize cheques.

Guy Wilson explained Ko would play as an amateur for at least a couple more years because, if she were to turn professional now, it would restrict the number of tournaments she could enter.

Full tour cards are not granted to players until they turn 18, which would leave Ko relying on minimal sponsors' exemptions to enter professional tournaments.

"She can only have eight sponsors' exemptions throughout the year and, if she's playing 30 events, then eight doesn't get her too far," Wilson said.

"She'll turn pro as soon as she can, really, to take advantage of the opportunities that are arising.

"There's no point creating this massive profile and then not using it."

That suggests endorsements are on the horizon, which would be no surprise considering Ko's status as the most promising youngster in world golf.

Endorsement contracts combined with tournament prizemoney will soon prove too tempting to ignore, and that may prevent Ko from playing collegiate golf in the United States.

That has previously been floated as a possibility but college sport is an amateur game, and Wilson said Ko's priorities may have changed.

"[College] is an option, although it's not the biggest option as yet. She wanted to go do some college golf but she's starting to realise that, hey, that is probably not the best plan, and she should make hay while the sun shines."

It has been shining rather brightly on the Korean-born Kiwi in the last couple of years, with records being rewritten was the same regularity as putts drop.

Ko was targeting a top-three finish at the New Zealand Open, something Wilson attributed to modesty as he said he had yet to find a golf course capable of restricting Ko's brilliance.

"Until she turns pro and until she's older than everyone else, she's going to continue to break records because she's so good."

The next field for Ko to terrorise comes at this week's Australian Open in Canberra. The competition will feature a strong representation from the world's top 20, but Wilson said he wouldn't bet against Ko claiming another victory.

Prizemoney

The major purses Lydia Ko has passed up by not being a professional

2010

* New Zealand Open, seventh, $14,000

2011

* NSW Open, runner-up, $13,000
* New Zealand Open, fourth, $23,000

2012

* NSW Open, winner, $23,000
* New Zealand Open, 17th, $5000
* US Open, T39, $19,000
* Canadian Open, winner, $360,000
* British Open, T17, $43,000

2013

* NSW Open, runner-up, $13,000
* New Zealand Open, winner, $49,000

Total: $562,000

Note: Estimated amount based on today's exchange rates, does not include minor placings at two other professional tournaments.

- APNZ

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