Lydia Ko Not Quite Like Anyone Else
All right, so Super-Kid did it again. She’s just turned 18, and won the Evian Championship going away. She did it with rounds of 69 – 69 – 67 – 63. Even without the big finish, in which she didn’t miss any greens in most peoples’ memories, barely missed one or two fairways, and putted the lights out, Lydia Ko might have still won the event by a couple of strokes. In the end, the margin was six over Lexi Thompson.
A number of articles are exploring interesting comparisons between Ko’s triumphs and the early career of Tiger Woods, and that of Annika Sorenstam, through their first 61 tournament starts. That’s all fine, but concerning the likeness to Tiger’s case, there are some important differences. Some of us may remember that during those “Tiger and not much of anyone else” years, he was a distinct, present threat almost every single week. If he wasn’t winning by Sunday, he was usually close. He didn’t have many blah days, few average, non-descript rounds, and was almost never overtaken from behind. There just weren’t that many people who could pull that kind of thing off.
Lydia has done it magnificently, but differently. Like a bear in the winter, she hibernates (albeit, the winter never lasts more than a few weeks, it seems). She shoots a bunch of 70s and 72s, wins a lot of money, and goes on to the next venue. Then, she explodes for a period of several weeks, and on some of them, is virtually unstoppable, especially if she’s playing in Canada. Her winning ways are more typical of the LPGA, where different players phase in and out and pull off patches of triumphs. She just does it more often, and at a much younger age.
Another important difference is that while Tiger had no arch-rival for several years, Lydia has a great one…or two. Remember that despite these victories, she’s not ranked number one, as Tiger was literally all the time. Inbee Park is number one, and on any given hibernation cycle, can dominate the game like no one else. And, if it isn’t her, she has about ten countrywomen who can fill in for her. If not them, there’s plenty of other threats to go around. This would be particularly interesting if Lorena, Annika, and Lydia shared the same era.
Still, nine victories by the age of 18 signifies greatness, especially for a person who intends to leave the game by the age of thirty. What is Ko going to do after that? Anything she wants, I imagine. If she stayed in and kept playing at this pace, she could out-Mickey Wright Mickey Wright, Betsy King and the other great long-term winners, Annika included.
Another article suggests that in winning her first major, Ko has “gotten a monkey off her back.” Oh puhleeze. I’m not sure that the author really understands the gist of having a monkey on or off one’s back. I think of it as a persistent problem or barrier that will not go away without an extreme amount of uphill effort. No one who has won nine times on tour by the age of 18, one being a major, has anything at all on her back. In career terms, in fact, Lydia Ko doesn’t have a care in the world – no lingering, troublesome burden aching to be relieved.
Tiger, who does have a persistent problem to get rid of, could certainly use some of what Lydia Ko is running on these days. Maybe he should change his name to Lydia Woods or something like that. In the reverse, Ko needs absolutely nothing from anyone. Play a little, hibernate a little, win a lot, then repeat the process. When she turns 30…well, we’ll see.