It was amazing to watch Lydia Ko win the CN Canadian Women’s Open. However, what was really surprising was that Ko was the lead story on Golf Channel’s wrap-up show, Golf Central. It is rare that a ladies event overshadows a PGA event, but Lydia Ko’s win overshadowed Nick Watney’s win at the Barclays.
I wrote about Lydia winning the US Women’s Amateur just a few weeks ago. Ko is an amazing golfer; but what is really surprising is her demeanor on the golf course and during her press conferences. She has a lovely personality. She smiles all the time (and said in the press conference she tries to smile even when she makes a bad shot). She is quick to acknowledge all the people supporting her golf career and seems to recognize that her amateur schedule is like a job. She stated in various interviews that she has missed many months of school with all the world traveling she is doing for golf.
As I watched Ko play, I noticed she had a Srixon logo on her golf cap and a New Zealand Golf Logo on her shirt. I did a bit of research and found the New Zealand Golf website. As an amateur Ko cannot have sponsors but what she does have is the support of the New Zealand Golf Federation. Lydia Ko is one of the shinning stars of the New Zealand Golf Federation’s National Development Program (or better known to the golf viewing public as the “Srixon Golf Academy.”)
When you read the details of the “National Development Programme” on the New Zealand Golf Website, you realize how much of an advantage players supported by a national federation have over an amateur without such support. The website states “The National Development Programme is the pathway that assists young emerging talent from throughout New Zealand to succeed on the international stage.” Here is what the website states a Srixon Golf Academy player can expect:
- Primary coach
- Sports psychologist
- Strength and conditioning coach
- Golf specific physiotherapist
- They will also have funding assistance to ensure their attendance at national events throughout their term in the Academy.
- For the very best of the Academy there will be a contestable ‘International Tournament Campaign Fund’ to help assist them create and manage their own international tournament campaigns. (Note: the website even lists specific tournaments in Asia, UK/Europe, Canada, and the USA).
Wow, given the “funding” support it is hard to call Lydia Ko an Amateur. Clearly, the financial support to travel all over the world to compete against the worlds best golfers is a luxury most American amateurs would love. Actually, I think a lot of “journeymen” players and “rookies” on the professional tours would love that kind of financial support.
The support Lydia Ko receives does not take away from her talent or her win. She is still a 15-year-old playing an individual sport and it is her talent and mental fortitude that has allowed her to win at the highest level of golf. However, the support Ko receives “outside the ropes” is not something all amateurs get. Judy Rankin, Golf Hall of Fame member and commentator for LPGA golf events, often comments during her on-air TV analysis that international amateurs (supported by golf federations) have an advantage over American amateurs. The lack of international travel and opportunity to play against the best in the world is a big issue for the development of American Amateurs.
Is Lydia Ko like other Amateurs at all? One way Lydia Ko is a normal amateur is that she does not have the pressure a professional has to win. Professionals feel pressure because golf is how they make their living. Maybe a good example is Lexi Thompson. In 2007, at age 12, Thompson was the youngest golfer to qualify for the US Women’s Open and turned pro at 15 but did not have her LPGA card. Thompson was entering LPGA tournaments on sponsor exemptions. Thompson made history when she won her first LPGA event (the Navistar LPGA Classic) at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old. Given her win, the LPGA waived the age minimum/restriction and granted Lexi Thompson her card. But as a professional, Thompson has struggled this year and missed the cut at the CN Canadian Women’s Open. The other past “amateur phenom” to miss the cut this week — Michelle Wie.
Is Lydia Ko an amateur in name only? I say yes because she plays like a professional, she travels and competes worldwide like a professional, and she has “financial support” that mirrors the economic benefit to cover travel costs that a sponsor deal might cover (without the official sponsor).
Who knows when Lydia Ko will become a professional. Until that time, I’m sure Lydia Ko will continue to amaze the golf viewing public with her amazing talent. The next big question is when she does turn professional, will she continue her phenomenal rise? Will Ko be the next Annika or Tiger?. Only time will tell. One thing is for sure — the golf world will be watching.