Golf: What now for pro Ko?

By David Leggat

It was always a matter of when, not if and yesterday Lydia Ko put those pursuing her over Decision Day out of their misery.

Now that she has turned pro the most precocious talent in the women's game can start cashing in on her rare golfing gifts.

She made the announcement in a quirky tweet, with an accompanying video involving All Black Israel Dagg.

The 16-year-old, who has taken the women's golf world by storm over the past three years, gets her first chance to pocket some cash with her performances on the course - as distinct from endorsement chances - in Florida next month.

Evidently Ko and Dagg are mates and Dagg's larrikin spirit shines through before Ko, after a "round'' of pestering about turning pro, utters the line: "Okay, I'll do it.''

"Do what?'' Dagg replies.

It is an unusual, very modern way to make the most anticipated move of the New Zealand sporting year. The link is through the fact the pair are ambassadors on a New Zealand Golf campaign starting in the New Year called Love Golf.

"She was reluctant to hold a traditional press conference,'' NZG chief executive Dean Murphy said.

"She didn't want to make a big fuss about news that had already been reported in recent weeks.''

But ever since Ko won the New Zealand amateur title at 13, she has made the unusual seem routine.

Spare a thought for Ko's fellow professionals. Ever since it was apparent she was a special player in the making - as distinct from merely promising - rivals have figured out if they stay close to Ko on the leaderboard they'll collect a significant payout, as Ko would leave money on the table. No more.

She is now world No 4 - and having played far fewer tournaments than the three above her, Korean Inbee Park, Norwegian Suzann Pettersen and American Stacey Lewis.

Now she has said enough to the notion of playing purely, or at least primarily, for enjoyment.

There comes a point when the move had to be made. Now seems right. Ko is known to feel she's shown she can foot it in the top flight.

So it's now fresh challenges, rather than fresh fields, to conquer. She'll lose a degree of ability to keep her life her own. Still, the financial rewards will sweeten that.

No New Zealand player has got close to matching her world ranking. Michael Campbell, US Open champion eight years ago, got to No 12.

Ko will need a dispensation from the LPGA, as 18 is the standard starting point for a professional. Commissioner Michael Whan has sole discretion and has yet to decide. You'd doubt that'll be an issue.

So in time will October 23, 2013 come to have special significance in New Zealand sport?

And did Ko know it was two years to the day since the All Blacks won the World Cup? Maybe Izzy told her.

Impressive lead-up
- Lydia Ko has won four professional tournaments and passed up about US$1.2 million
in potential earnings through being an amateur player

- The 16-year-old has never missed a cut in 25 professional tournaments

- She'll play her first tournament as a pro in Florida next month in the LPGA season-ending championship, with a purse of US$2 million.

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