• April 19, 2024

Lydia Ko Is Winning on the L.P.G.A. Tour Again

LOS ANGELES – Lydia Ko, from New Zealand, was walking on Santa Monica Beach Sunday when she said she was bitten by a seagull that stole the sandwich in her hand. Ko could only laugh. Her return to the top 10 women’s golf rankings after more than three years of absence has a lot to do with making peace with her ability to control only so much when she’s in the sand.

Or on the fairway.

The day before, Ko, a former world number one, had ended a three-year title drought at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii and taken a seven-stroke win fueled by her belief that the result was largely out of her hands lay.

For Ko, who was the youngest player, male or female, reached number 1 at age 17 and had 14 LPGA wins before she turned 20, expectations had become a burden she could no longer comfortably shoulder. That’s why she recently decided to leave her to the winds of fate and say to herself, “the winner has already been chosen”.

The mantra has set her free to play the best golf she is capable of instead of devoting all of her physical and psychological energies to the success of the production. They made the results in 2021 feel like 2015. At this week’s LA Open, the knockout is in seventh place in her last five competition rounds 38 below average and has achieved 16 below average results in 20 competition rounds this year. She had a bogey and 39 birdies on her final 100 holes before Wednesday when her hot hand went cold in a round of shooting a seven-over-par-78 at Wilshire Country Club. Ko was 14 shots away from the pace that Jessica Korda, who was in her group, had set.

“It takes a little pressure off to believe that what is supposed to be will happen,” said Ko on Tuesday. “Ultimately, you don’t control your outcome, even though you want to.”

Ko, who turns 24 on Saturday, has never left, yet her presence on the front page of the leaderboards this year has the feel of a popular show returning after an endless hiatus. After her pro-am on Tuesday, Ko was stopped by any player or caddy she passed as the serpentine went up through a narrow tunnel and hill from the ninth hole to the practice putting green.

Everyone had congratulations and kind words for Ko, who has been one of the most popular players on the tour since she entered the golf scene like a whiff of puppy breath.

As a 15-year-old amateur, Ko became the youngest ever winner of an LPGA event in 2012 and led a field at the Canadian Women’s Open that included 48 of the top 50 top cash winners of the year. She won the event again before turning pro at the age of 16. The LPGA waived the 18-year age limit to grant membership, and Ko continued their rocket climb. She won her first event as a professional, won the Rookie of the Year award, and won, and won, and won.

She was so consistent that she made the cut at her first 53 LPGA events. She mastered her game so well that before her 20th birthday she had won two majors and an Olympic silver medal.

But then the unimaginable happened: Ko stopped winning. Not only were the victories dried up, Ko also struggled to prepare for the weekend. In the 12 months before the coronavirus pandemic ended the tour, Ko missed four cuts, including one after seven strokes at the Evian Championship, one of the five women’s golf majors. Ko’s bouts resembled something JoAnne Carner, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, said in 2012 after watching Ko win her 1969 LPGA event as an amateur.

“You turn to a ‘professional’ by your name and suddenly you feel like you should know everything.” Carner told the Times then. “There’s a lot more pressure and you try so hard and you put so much pressure on yourself.”

Ko’s swing went south, but her smile never did, though both looked equally mechanical at times. During your break-in, Ko cycled through a number of swing coaches. One, David Leadbetter, who was fired in late 2016, firmly believed that Ko’s biggest obstacle to success was her over-reliance on her parents. He told anyone who asked if she needed to take control of her career if she wanted to change her results.

Last year, at the start of the pandemic, Ko made major phone calls to Sean Foley, an instructor from Orlando, Florida, where she lives, and whose client was Tiger Woods.

“I just felt like my swing was improving, but I could do a little better,” said Ko, who worked with Foley over the months the tour closed but the Orlando classes were still open.

Foley’s interest in its customers extends beyond the swing plane, and its all-person philosophy has clicked with Ko. More than any adjustment he made to her swing, Foley Ko has helped keep her mind and body in sync.

He reminded her that she can only control her efforts, not the outcome. At the second event after the tour resumed last summer, Ko had a five-stroke lead with six holes. She took one shot ahead of an attacking Danielle Kang in the final hole, a par-5, and went bogey to finish second. Just a bad day at the office, said Foley. No big deal.

When she entered the finals in Hawaii with one stroke ahead of Nelly Korda, who she had behind her at Gainbridge LPGA in February, she got one last text from Foley before she tee off. It read: trust and conviction.

She wrote the words in her running book, then went out and played that way, finishing on a 65 to claim her first win in 1,084 days.

“I think that cleared some of my doubts,” Ko said on Tuesday, adding, “I felt pretty calm playing. It should be there. Just because I’m shooting a 68 or 78 shouldn’t be my mood and that Determine the way I am on the golf course. “

Ko saw the win as an affirmation of her parents and their approach as well as of her and her game. “It was unfair for them to receive criticism because they just do whatever it takes to make me wish I was happier,” she said.

Foley’s work with Ko is focused on finding that happiness, winning or losing that. For all her precociousness – perhaps because of it – Ko had skipped this lesson. She had to learn the hard way.

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