Lydia Ko Wins Again in New Zealand
I have never been to New Zealand, but it’s on my list of “must sees.” My closest cultural connection to the beautiful green island is that Zena lives there, or if you must, actress Lucy Lawless. The warrior princess, however, has been eclipsed by her younger countrywoman, Lydia Ko, who won the national tournament this week, the New Zealand Open. Although not officially an LPGA event, it was a national win, a tournament in which she has triumphed before.
I’m running out of things to say about Lydia Ko, and she’s driving me to the edge of the same promise I made of not writing too often about Tiger Woods. She’s difficult to avoid, though, with the year she’s having, not to mention last year. One thing that occurred to me, something I’d never thought of before, was that in her searing round of 61, a round that could have easily flipped to a 59 with one or two reasonable breaks, Ko came closer to shooting her age than any other teenage golfer that springs to mind.
This is Ko’s second victory in as many weeks, as she won the Australian Open last week, an LPGA event. I was reminded of a friend who would invariably say to me if I hit two good shots in a row, “Well, now you’re just showing off.” But, I can’t say that to one like her. She’s playing at a level I can watch, but not a level I can understand.
Great golfers, like other great game players and athletes, go through cycles. Two seasons ago, I could have sworn that Stacey Lewis was headed straight to Mickey Wright-style stardom. Not long before, I thought the same thing of Suzann Pettersen. This year, Ko is arcing toward the first of what could become multiple zeniths, but it won’t always be this way, or will it? Pettersen and Lewis will stand in the winner’s circle many times to come, but the thought of a prodigy such as this young New Zealander putting together a pattern of dominance at this age is reminiscent of artistic and scholastic prodigies in fields such as music and science, a level where the air is very rare.
What will Lydia Ko do when desire, optimum skill, and ideal maturity intersect? Has there ever been an LPGA star who peaked in her teens, putting aside those who have burned out? Has she peaked too soon, or is this just the beginning of a legendary career? What, if anything can stop her? My guess is that only a waning commitment to the game, some form of boredom could derail the freight train that is Lydia Ko. Perhaps an entanglement of business interests could do the trick, or maybe a troublesome romance might cause her to lose her edge. For all golfers, the possibility of physical injury always lurks, and the golfer’s spirit has the same relationship with Lady Luck as a card shark has. We don’t know why, but sooner or later, it happens. The unstoppable star fades, and the ride ends. Looking back on the history of the LPGA, though, some have made the ride a long one, and Ko may just be one of those.
That’s six LPGA wins, and ten international victories for a young woman who has two “teen” years to go. From the CME through the New Zealand Open, it’s Ko who’s doing the Mickey Wright act, and she doesn’t seem stressed out enough to self-sabotage it. Maybe there’s someone out there who can stop her on a regular basis, but no one is. But if she does it again next week, “Well, then she’s just showing off.”