Ko, Number One in the World, but Tentatively
So much of the preparation for great golf involves perfecting the repeatable swing, the reliable groove,and the putting feel that can be duplicated over a long stretch. Muscle memory and freedom from clenching, having to reinvent or experiment. It’s the stuff of which champions are made, those who attain the durable technique, and somehow keep it through the next morning, even being able to replicate it under public pressure. A successful pattern is a great thing when you’re trying to break par all the time, as these pros do. However, along with it comes the danger of a personal or busines pattern that can come back to haunt the most gifted player. In this early segment of the 2017 LPGA season, the player duking it out with her psyche seems to be Lydia Ko, in a situation once thought impossible for the steel trap mind and swing that won LPGA tournaments at 14.
We’ve seen it before. Arnold Palmer went through a putter search that rivaled the hunt for the holy grail, or Chi Chi’s search for new hats. Pros fiddle with the equipment all the time, and once in a while, they fiddle with the personnel as well. They change sponsors, and caddies come and go, despite some bag relationships that last through a career. I can only relate to my meager experience, because for me, it was a pattern of long-term denial. I couldn’t putt, so I went through two dozen putters. I experimented with 10 wedges, only to find that I didn’t use a wedge very well. I wouldn’t accept that I had to learn how to hit the club instead of just blaming the one in my hand. I eventually relented, but admitting to the condition wasn’t easy. Talk about patterns – I am a master.
I don’t know if the pros who do this are in a state of denial, or whether it’s even close to the same thing. Still, Lydia Ko has, by caddie Gary Matthew’s count, gone through nine bagmen in three years. She separated herself from Matthews after what he thought was a farily good experience. The problem is that Ko is just playing well, but not playing like Ko. At the risk of using too many horse racing metaphors, she’s placing instead of winning, and everyone knows she should doing what Secretariat did. Ko is still number one in the world, but it’s slipping away, a pattern she doesn’t want to see.
Meanwhile, one heartbreaker of an article after another comes out about Tiger Woods. He repeatedly puts it together and is cleared for action before running into a brick wall and going back into muscular rehab. I have hung on longer than many in the hopes that he would regain at least something of himself, but I’m almost out of optimism. Whether it’s denial on his part, or at best a desperate optimism, he’s going to find himself ready for the senior tour by the time he really gets it back, if at all.
For Ko, it’s so different. She’s had a world of a career before the age of 20, and there’s no reason to see it go away. It’s difficult for an average fan to assess the underlying pattern of her slump. Matthews claims that she’s got to “wake up,” or “she’ll just keep doing it.” Is the caddie pattern of obsession (if that’s what it is) coming directly from Ko, parents, coaches (fired and otherwise), boredom, or sponsors? Matthews goes on to suggest that there is no communication between the various components of the Ko team. Ko is perceived as a lovely person with a great gift. Nothing nefarious is suggested on her part. However, she or her team may have to learn better relations with good caddies instead of just going through more of them. That pattern doesn’t seem to be a good soltuion.