Ko Falters in Coates, Vaults to #1
I was all set up to talk about something and someone else this week. We talk about Lydia Ko all the time, almost as often as we talk about Tiger Woods. But when Lydia Ko is what’s happening, you have to talk about Lydia Ko, so here we go again.
A sixteen year old Ko won the final event of last year’s LPGA Tour. Then we all took a break, and came back for the first event of 2015. It appeared that she was going to win this one, too, but to my surprise, she faltered on the 17th with a double bogey, and finished tied for second. To win the Coates, played at the Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club in Florida, would have been the sixth tour victory for someone who just started learning to drive. And, even though her lead was a close one, her five consecutive birdies in the third round made her look unstoppable. Lydia Ko was the last person I ever expected to see choke.
That’s crazy. Ko is seventeen now. Why should I expect her to have such an iron-bound game and psychology that she’d never give up a one stroke lead at the end of a tournament? But, since she did, my impulse is to cover my tracks and say, “Oh, it was just a mistake of youth.”
Only, it isn’t. If we were talking about most other types of competition, I might give in to that, but even though competitive golf requires a sterling set of nerves, it’s golf. Anyone who plays the game, from a first-timer to a famous pro, knows what golf can do to you at any given moment. I think that it just chose a most inauspicious moment to do it to Lydia Ko. That wasn’t Ko throwing away a tournament – it was just golf.
If we’re looking at the labryinthian methods by which international golf rankings are figured, the powers that be seem to agree. Although Lydia finished in a tie for second in the tournament, she has jumped to the top of the field in the world’s ratings. She’s number one, and the youngest to do it in the history of the game – ever. She did it in an era with a ferociously competitive field, edging out early leader Ha Na Jang, the twenty-two year old rookie who answered any questions about her staying power through four rounds.
The first day tone of the Coates Golf Championship was set by Stacy Lewis, Jessica Korda and Azahara Munoz. Stacy Lewis has spent some time as the number one ranked in the world, and she appeared difficult to dislodge this week. Where Jang, the Korean rookie, did not fall back, Lewis did, all the way to seven under. Ko, along with the top group on the leaderboard, shot four rounds down into the 60s, and looked comfortable doing it.
What does this mean for the future? Probably, for Lydia, little will change. She’ll continue preparing the way she normally does, showing up, and playing each week with a clean slate. But, she looks different this year. Along with ditching the glasses, there’s an earnestness in her eye, and the modest, happy-go-lucky kid who was already scary at fourteen, is in business to become one of the great names in some future Hall of Fame.
These late Sunday falterings aren’t going to happen all that often. Everyone wins some and loses from time to time, but what we saw was atypical. Remember, she’s only #2 this week. She’s #1 in the big picture, until somebody puts enough game together to knock her off – and that might take a little while.