By Joseph Romanos
New Zealander Lydia Ko, the world’s No 1 golfer, hasn’t started her Olympic tournament yet, but is already attracting an international audience.
An early-morning Ko press conference today drew not just New Zealand journalists, but the New York Times, some international television networks and various news agencies.
Ko, 19, is arguably the biggest international star in the New Zealand Olympic team. Many other New Zealand Olympians are superstars of their sports, but golf’s reach is undeniable.
Ko has set records since before she even turned professional and already has two Majors to her name, as well as her long run at the top of the world rankings.
She is an unusual mixture. As many teenagers can be, she is often disarmingly upfront. However, there is no denying she is used to handling herself in public and has a maturity way beyond her years.
She headlines an exceptionally strong women’s field in Rio. Whereas several of the leading male players elected to bypass the Olympics, some using the Zika virus as a convenient “get-out card”, virtually every leading women’s player has turned up. Indeed, some really top-class South Koreans have been unable to make their country’s Olympic team.
Ko was asked what it would be like to play for New Zealand. She looked almost taken aback and smiled. “I always play for New Zealand,” she said.
However, she is clearly embracing her Olympic experience.
She said she had watched some Olympic events and been inspired by Val Adams’ effort in the shot put. “That added to the vibe,” he said.
She also followed New Zealand men Ryan Fox and Danny Lee on their final rounds in Rio.
“I sacrificed some valuable sleep time to watch them. I don’t really get up at 7am to watch others play golf, but I’m glad I did. It was a great day. We had a nice photo taken together afterwards – Team New Zealand.”
Ko said that ever since 2009, when it was announced golf would be an Olympic sport, she had imagined being part of the New Zealand team. “It has always been on my mind. It is very special to be in the New Zealand Olympic team.”
She said she had already played six holes of the Olympic course and liked what she had seen.
“The course is good and the weather seems ideal. If it gets hot, there will be a fair bit of roll on the fairways. It will make it a little more difficult to hold the ball on the greens, but that’s where you have to be creative – maybe pitch it low and short and run it up, or hit it high and get it to land and stay there.”
There was no doubt listening to Ko that she would cherish winning a medal in Rio.
“I have spoken to my caddy about how it would feel to be standing on the podium. That would be amazing. I’ve probably thought about that feeling more than about any pressure on me here.”Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Lydia Ko Danny Lee Ryan Fox Golf