Ko wants to get ball rolling on equal pay for women

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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 13, 2016 shows Lydia Ko of New Zealand teeing off on the third hole during the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship golf event at the Sky72 Golf Club in Incheon, west of Seoul. The world’s top woman golfer Lydia Ko on January 16, 2017 wants her stunning achievements as a teenager to narrow the sport’s huge gap in prize money between men and women. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je

The world’s top woman golfer Lydia Ko wants her stunning achievements as a teenager to narrow the sport’s huge gap in prize money between men and women.

“Hopefully one day it will be equal” she told AFP, while recognising her and her LPGA Tour colleagues have a crucial part to play in growing the sport among women.

“One of our roles is to obviously play great golf, but to also make a difference in the game,” said Ko this week in a telephone interview from her Florida home to confirm she will take part in the $1.5 million HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore beginning on March 2.

Ko, who turns 20 in April, was the youngest player — man or woman — to become world golf number one when she achieved the feat almost two years ago.

She was also the youngest to win a major, at the Evian Championship in 2015 at the age of 18.

She added another major in 2016 at the ANA Inspiration, but the $6 million she made last year means that the New Zealander is the only woman among the sport’s top 50 earners, according to Golf Digest magazine.

The magazine placed her 44th, two places lower in the list than American journeyman William McGirt, who has just one victory to his name in 10 years on the US PGA Tour.

“By us being on tour and showcasing talent we can grow the game and make it one day to be equal between men and women,” she said.

Tennis is one sport where majors have recently given parity to men and women, but a gulf remains in golf.

Last year Henrik Stenson received $1.4 million for winning the British Open while Ariya Jutanugarn banked just over $400,000 for winning the women’s equivalent.

– Tiger excitement –
Having won two majors as a teenager Ko is now targeting a career grand slam of the five women’s majors that would put her in the illustrious company of the game’s legends such as Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods.

“There are so many role models who have made the tour what it is today and made the women’s game what it is,” she said.

“For us, not only are we trying to play great golf but to inspire one person to pick up the game and love it,” said Ko.

Ko said Woods’ return to the US PGA Tour at Torrey Pines later this month after an 18-month absence through injury would give the game a lift.

“He’s come back and he’s playing again. This will make people that joined the game because of him more excited and motivate them,” she said.

Ko has seen Woods play but said she had yet to encounter the 14-time major winner in person.

“I’ve never met him. I would love to. I went to the Masters last year and I got to meet PGA players, so hopefully I’ll be able to get the chance.”

The 19-year-old will start her LPGA Tour season at the Australian Open next month with new equipment and a new backroom team after splitting with long-time swing guru David Leadbetter, coach Sean Hogan and caddie Jason Hamilton after a dip in form at the end of last season.

“Hopefully these changes are for the better. For now I don’t regret them,” she said.

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