Big plans for 14-year-old Lydia
There are some ambitiously big plans in the pipeline for little Lydia Ko, New Zealand golf’s prized poster child.
Guy Wilson, the Auckland teenager’s coach, has devised a development strategy aimed at preparing the world’s top ranked amateur female for an eventual shift to the professional ranks.
It entails establishing a trust fund to finance Ko’s travels, specifically to the United States where the 14-year-old’s handlers have identified her future.
Ultimately, Wilson would like to see the trust hand on something like $70,000 a year for the next three years before Ko leaves the amateur game behind her in 2014 or 2015.
Before then, it is intended for Ko to compete in US amateur events and bid to contest LPGA events through Monday qualifying, as well as potentially seeking a spot in the US Women’s Open.
Wilson has already consulted a lawyer to ensure Ko’s amateur status is not breached in the meantime, and he has kept New Zealand Golf (NZG) fully briefed, with the organisation granting its approval and providing one senior official to act as one of the fund’s trustees.
There is some urgency to Wilson’s special project because he, Ko and her mother Tina this month head Stateside for the better part of four weeks as Ko attends the last of 18 regional qualifying events for the US amateur championship and, hopefully, the main event itself at Rhode Island in August.
NZG has invested heavily in Ko’s career to date, setting aside $40,000 to $50,000 a year to finance her international and domestic travel and accommodation, as well as provide sports science and nutritional advice and support.
“We have budgeted for the trip to cost about $21,000 all up but that figure may be on the high side because we are looking to arrange some billeted accommodation.”
The concept of the trust fund is not intended to cost anyone money.
“The idea is to find people to loan money and if Lydia becomes successful she will pay them back,” Wilson said.
“Once the document is set in stone then we can start finding like minded people who want to have a piece of Lydia’s future.
“For the numbers we want donations are just not going to cut it. We need to find those people willing to help out, with the possibility of them being repaid down the track.”
Ko, who finished fourth among a field of European professionals at the New Zealand Women’s Open near Christchurch in February, is in the midst of another particularly busy period.
She spent much of last month in Britain contesting the British amateur at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, where she was eliminated in the second round by defending champion Kelly Tidy, of England, then the quadrennial Astor Trophy at Lytham St Annes in England.
She returned home for a few weeks of schooling before heading back to the airport on July 15 bound for the US and an 18-hole qualifying tournament in Massachusetts, ahead of the US amateur championship starting on August 8.
Depending on the size of the qualifying field, only the top five or six will advance to the championship.
And the cut throat nature of the competition is exacerbated because the qualifier is contested over only one round.
Wilson hopes he and Ko can have three-four days on site to fully familiarise themselves with the qualifier course.
“It is a one-round shootout so a lot rests on that one round.”
Two requests for Ko to be exempted from qualifying were turned down by US officials, who were not prepared to take her world ranking into consideration.
Despite that setback, Wilson considers it crucial Ko gains as much experience on the international stage as possible before turning professional. And that means plenty of time offshore.
“The next three years are going to be crucial for her game.
“At this point of time I don’t feel as if she has enough competition in New Zealand and with Cecilia Cho (16-year-old Aucklander ranked third in the world) expected to turn pro next year, her major driving force on the amateur scene will be gone.
“Lydia has improved by ridiculous amounts over the past three years and I want to ensure that that continues to happen.”