Lydia Ko of Old Appears at Marathon

There’s No One Like Lydia Ko with Wedge and Putter

I don’t have so much trouble remembering people, places and events, but once in a while I become disoriented as to the ‘when.’ For example, I was shocked to learn that Lydia Ko is knocking on 24 years old. I was sure she was much older, but that’s because when she started taking the big trophies home, she was 14. This week at the Marathon Classic, Ko finished the first round with a 64 to tie Danielle Kang for the lead, and looked awfully good doing it.

Ko was once seemingly unstoppable, like Yani Tseng before her, but something’s gone funny in recent times, and she’s had a two-year dry spell. I have never thought that it’s the same sort of patch that befell Tseng. Today, I’m doubly sure of that. In Friday’s round, she birdied four holes in each nine, made approach shots like the Lydia Ko of old, leaving short putts, tap-ins and one hit pin. In short, with a wedge in her hand, she was a master.

The stories flying around Ko have ranged from the mildly technical to the absurdly soap-operaish. Family dynamics have received exhaustive speculation, and that’s a dead horse. None of us really know anything, and never will. Better to be left alone. Then, there’s the story of the swing coaches.  Golfers are prone to excessive fussing when anything is wrong, and some go so mechanical that they forget what it feels like to feel good. Ko has been through David Leadbetter, Gary Gilchrist, Ted Oh, David Whelan, and Jorge Praded, all big reputation guys. This month belongs to Sean Foley, but something  seems to be happening in the new relationship.

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As Ko puts it, he isn’t “ripping anything apart.” The swing doesn’t need to match exact lines and angles as analyzed by a super-computer. I get the impression that there is still a little room for an experiential process.  Ko herself is revisiting the days when she was at her most free, even before turning pro. Watching amateur videos is, she says, weird, which is understandable, but it’s helping at some level. The streak of constructive playfulness is still alive in Ko, as she plays with colleagues in Florida for push-ups instead of money.

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Some analyses continue, however, as to why Ko hasn’t won in a while. One suggests that golf has grown as a power game, and Ko is not a power hitter.  She used to drive about minus seven yards against the 20th player, but now it’s -22.  One cites the infusion of talent from Asia that rivals her own natural gifts. It sounds logical that short drives leave longer approaches, resulting in more missed greens and shots out of rough or bunkers. Shots from the rough don’t stop so quickly, and the post-bunker putt is often to save par-all  true.

On the other hand, Ko is a fine putter, and has almost always been so. It may be that the general field has caught up little bit in that regard. The top 20 has upgraded 1.8 shots per round. Still, on a good day, Ko is almost as likely to one-putt as two-putt.

The driving equation has changed as people and equipment bulk up, but there is still so much wisdom in the old “drive for show, putt for dough.” A person with magic short irons and a golden putter still has much to say about who stands atop the leader board. Consider what might happen if one tries to squeeze an extra five or ten yards out of Ko that risks everything else.

Whatever personal trials she has been through, I still view Lydia Ko as a generally healthy person who is ready to keep winning. She has sought solutions in both exterior with revolving coaches, and the interior with old video. Whatever the merits of such an approach, I believe Ko the winner is still here, just as she has been from the beginning.



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