Golf: Emotional Ko reveals NZ Open motivation

By Michael Donaldson in Christchurch

Lydia Ko was presented the New Zealand Women's Open trophy by Patsy Hankins in 2013. Photo / Getty
Lydia Ko was presented the New Zealand Women's Open trophy by Patsy Hankins in 2013. Photo / Getty

In a rare show of emotion, Lydia Ko fought back tears as she remembered the inspirational woman who presented her with her first New Zealand Open trophy.

Ko, 18, is well known for her calm and focused demeanor on the golf course - an attribute that prompted her coach David Leadbetter to describe her as a "silent assassin" this week.

But in her only press conference ahead of this week's New Zealand Women's Open at Clearwater Resort, Ko struggled to hide her emotion as she remembered Patsy Hankins.

Asked about her motivation in coming back to New Zealand to defend her title, which offers only a fraction of the prize money she can make on the LPGA Tour, the world No 1 said it came down to the special memories this tournament holds, particularly her first win as an amateur in 2013.

"For me there are so many great memories - the big thing about my first win here was that Patsy Hankins was there ... I'm getting emotional here ...

and we did the trophy shot together ... oh man," Ko said as tears welled up before composing herself. "There are so many great memories. Patsy was such a special person and for her to be there at my first time winning the national open ... it's one of the reasons I look forward to coming back."

Hankins, a former president of New Zealand Golf and among the first women given membership to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, was a trailblazing administrator renowned for her kind and gentle approach. When she passed away last year Ko was playing the Taiwan Championship and dedicated the eventual win to Hankins.

"I think I was really playing for Patsy this week," Ko said at the time. "I think just hearing that [she'd died] broke my heart. She was such a huge factor in my life, in my junior golf. That she had passed away was very hard to hear before you're entering a round. But I kind of just played for her the last three days, and I'm so happy that I can bring this win to her and her family."

It is the first time Ko has been back in New Zealand since Hankins passed away and returning to Clearwater for the defence of her open title brought back the memories.

The return to Clearwater is the first time Ko has been back in New Zealand in a year after she spent some of her off-season in Korea. Despite her love for the land of her birth, she reaffirmed her commitment to the New Zealand flag.

She was well aware that many other Korean golfers had received a good golf education in New Zealand before heading back to Korea.

"There have been players in past who've gone back to Korea - there have been questions to me about changing my nationality back to Korea but at the end of the day the players who did do it thought it was best option for them.

"I'm proud to have the [New Zealand] flag on my bag and I had the [silver] fern for a while. I started golf in Korea but did most of my development in New Zealand where New Zealand Golf were very supportive and they are still supportive now so it's kind of hard to leave that behind.

"Obviously when someone looks at me they see a Korean face. I'm proud to be born in Korea and to represent New Zealand and that's something I'm fortunate to have: support from two amazing countries. I'm a Korean Kiwi, or as we say it, Kowi.

"There are so many great people here and so many great memories and the memories are the important reason I'll stay [with New Zealand]."

Ko will seek her third New Zealand Open title when the tournament, co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and Australian Ladies Professional Golf, starts on Friday.

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