New Zealand's Lydia Ko, 15, is not ready to go professional, coach says

The 15-year-old New Zealand sensation finished third in the Australian Open but she wants to stay an amateur for at least the next 18 months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 5:25am


New Zealand's teenage sensation Lydia Ko would resist pressure to turn professional following an eye-catching performance at the Women's Australian Open, her coach said yesterday.

The 15-year-old, already the world's No 1 amateur and the youngest tournament winner in US LPGA history, came close to upsetting South Korea's Shin Ji-yai before a poor final round saw her relegated to third.

Her form at the Royal Canberra Golf Club, which included a career-best 10-under-par 63 in the opening round, has a number of pundits, including Tiger Woods' former caddy Steve Williams, calling for her to turn professional.

"There's no negative on going pro in my mind," Williams said of his fellow Kiwi, who was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand at six. "There is nothing I can think of to suggest she shouldn't play on the LPGA Tour," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"These days she could continue to study while playing. Let's face it, she already plays a schedule where she misses plenty of school."

But Ko's coach, Guy Wilson, said the prodigy had no intention of cashing in on her growing profile and was content to remain an amateur for the time being. "She hasn't got any new plans for it to move from being a game to a job," he told Radio New Zealand. "In our plans, she's probably got about a year and a half to go [before turning professional]."

Ko has won three professional tournaments, including claiming last year's Canadian Women's Open when she was aged just 15 years, four months and two days, 16 months younger than the previous LPGA record holder.

She has reportedly sacrificed more than US$500,000 in prize money by remaining an amateur, including a cheque for almost US$80,000 from the Australian tournament.

Wilson said her disappointing final round in Canberra showed she still had much to learn and Ko would not be rushed into turning professional.

"It's a big decision," he said. "It's not the same playing as an amateur as it is as a professional. There are a whole lot of other extraneous pressures and calls that come with that. She's only 15. I think it's a very wise move of her just to take her time."

Ko, who trains for about 50 hours a week, is enrolled at an Auckland high school and in the past has spoken about her intention to go to college in the United States and compete for a medal at the 2016 Olympics.

The level-headed adolescent also said last year that she was mindful of the difficulties faced by American Michelle Wie, who has under-performed since turning pro aged 15 in 2005 amid much hype.

Wilson said time was on Ko's side. "She's got an extraordinary career ahead of her, I'm sure," he said. "If anything, it would be a greater risk to go too soon than to hold on."

Wilson's cautious approach to his charge has won support from New Zealander Michael Campbell, the 2005 US Open winner.

"Clearly what she is doing at the moment is working well," he told the Dominion Post newspaper. "Whoever is looking after her seems to be doing a good job and I think, for the time being, she should carry on as she is.

"There's no need to rush."