Ko-Fac­tor to blame on ever-im­prov­ing women’s tal­ent

Ly­dia Ko's prob­lems start with Ly­dia Ko her­self. Well, she's at least part of the rea­son things have got tougher for the now for­mer World No 1.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - FEATURE -

“Even if I play good golf but some­body plays bet­ter... It's re­ally out of your hands,” she said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Analysing her re­cent “strug­gles” will take some deep thought, but on the sur­face the 20-year-old's is­sues are, in part, based around the im­prov­ing lev­els of her com­pe­ti­tion and its Ko who's partly to blame.

Let's firstly ad­dress those “strug­gles” and some­thing that needs to be men­tioned.

She's not play­ing poorly, she's not strug­gling and she's not at a level where peo­ple should be wor­ried. She's fourth in the world.

Most of us would con­sider that a suc­cess, a mon­u­men­tal one. Hell, if some­one of­fered us the chance to be world's fourth best at any­thing, we'd jump at the chance.

Be­ing fourth in the world at some­thing is no fail­ure. Be­ing one of the best golfers on the planet is an ex­cep­tional feat and the only rea­son Ko is linked with words like “strug­gles”, “slump” and “out of form” is be­cause she set her bar so high.

The ex­pec­ta­tions, from a largely ador­ing Kiwi fan-base, are as­tro­nom­i­cally high be­cause that's how she in­tro­duced her­self to many of us.

She is not play­ing her best - far from it - but the fact she is still rel­a­tively com­pet­i­tive, ranked in­side the world's top five and has still missed just three cuts in her pro­fes­sional ca­reer proves she's no mug.

She's the first to ad­mit there is work to do and her game isn't where she wants it to be, but it's far from time to panic and it's hard to be­lieve her fu­ture won't fea­ture an­other sharp rise.

And while fac­tors like chang­ing equip­ment, coaches and cad­dies are all linked to Ko's rel­a­tive slip in form, there is an­other ma­jor player in this pro­duc­tion - the “Ko-fac­tor”

The form of dozens of the top golfers has all im­proved since Lit­tle Ly­dia danced down the fair­ways in Canada as a 15-year-old on her way to win­ning the 2012 Cana­dian Open.

It had to. Even the top play­ers re­alised very quickly they needed to get bet­ter or they would get to be spec­ta­tors, ex­tras at best, in the Ly­dia Ko-show.

So they did. The LPGA Tour has been pro­fes­sional since 1950, but it has en­joyed a ma­jor boost in the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of its play­ers in the last few years.

There have al­ways been a few ex­cep­tional play­ers on the tour, but that num­ber has in­creased rapidly since Ko joined the crew.

It's ob­vi­ously not only on Ko's shoul­ders, there has been a global push - led ini­tially in Asia - of de­vel­op­ing young fe­male tal­ent and maybe Ko was just one of the first to make it.

Re­gard­less, the early talk of Ko be­com­ing the golfer to win the most ma­jors by some might have been a tad pre­ma­ture. As she's quick to point out; “Even if I play good golf but some­body plays bet­ter... It's re­ally out of your hands,” she said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

She's won two ma­jors al­ready which is no mean feat but, re­gard­less of her form, it looks like she will have plenty of com­pe­ti­tion at the rest of the year's five ma­jors.

Of course pass­ing An­nika Soren­stam's 10-ma­jor ti­tles is a pos­si­bil­ity, though Jack Nick­laus' 18 might be a stretch, es­pe­cially if Ko still plans on re­tir­ing aged 30, a num­ber she's stick­ing with for now.

The wheels are far from fall­ing off, but her dom­i­na­tion has slipped.

Her 85-week run as the World No 1 ended and even one of her most im­pres­sive records has been bro­ken.

Ko was still four months short of her 15th birthday when she won the New South Wales Open in 2012. She'd nearly won the same event the year be­fore, but fin­ished run­ner-up to Swe­den's Caro­line Hed­wall.

The win made her the youngest win­ner of a pro­fes­sional golf event - male or fe­male - tak­ing the man­tle from Ja­pan's Ryo Ishikawa who was 15-years and 8-months when he won on his first ap­pear­ance in a pro­fes­sional event.

“Rather than think­ing about 'hey, when and if am I go­ing to re­turn to be­ing the num­ber one ranked player?' I think that is less im­por­tant. It's more im­por­tant for me to put my­self in good po­si­tions, week-in, week-out."

Last month the record was again bro­ken.

Young Thai At­thaya Thi­tikul was a two-stroke win­ner at the Ladies' Euro­pean Tour's Thai­land Cham­pi­onship last month and was nearly four months younger than when Ko won in 2012.

Ko isn't the type to be con­cerned with records like that go­ing and is more likely to cel­e­brate the con­tin­ued suc­cess of young women around the world.

So what are the keys to Ko find­ing her mo-jo again and re­turn­ing to be­ing golf's tour de force?

Some­what iron­i­cally, she hit the nail on the head when asked the same ques­tions at re­cent LPGA press con­fer­ences.

“I think I just, you know, got to stay pa­tient,” she said dur­ing last month's US Open.

“I keep work­ing on my game and that's all you can do and just keep your head high and just look for­ward.”

It's that pa­tience that's key. She knows she can be good enough, we all do, but she just needs to slowly work out what works best for her.

Re­mem­ber, she's never had to strug­gle be­fore. From an early age, she was a su­per­star in the mak­ing.

While some grind through the dif­fer­ent grades and tours to reach the top, she waltzed on in and kicked the door down.

Even as a pint-sized am­a­teur who would hap­pily skip down fair­ways, she had the game and the tem­per­a­ment to take on the world and win.

And while she's preach­ing pa­tience, a raft of re­cent changes sug­gests more she - or her team - have been look­ing for a quick fix.

Hope­fully the pa­tience mes­sage is sink­ing in be­cause in chang­ing things in search of a quick an­swer, it's pos­si­ble to do more harm than good.

Com­mon-sense would sug­gest she looks back at what's worked for her in the past and try and repli­cate at least some of that.

In that re­gard, should her time away from the top be­come an elon­gated ab­sence a re­turn to Kiwi-coach Guy Wil­son would hardly be sur­pris­ing.

That might be get­ting a bit too far ahead of our­selves for now.

Ko could, of course, be on the verge of break­ing her funk at any stage. And she clearly thinks it's close. "I think I'm more OK than what peo­ple think," Ko told Kiwi free­lance jour­nal­ist Ben Stan­ley in Arkansas re­cently.

“It was so much fun be­ing in that po­si­tion (No 1) and ob­vi­ously now it mo­ti­vates me more to hope­fully reach that po­si­tion again,” she said.

Ko was quick to add that oth­ers had im­proved and said her fo­cus re­mained on “stay­ing happy”.

“Rather than think­ing about 'hey, when and if am I go­ing to re­turn to be­ing the num­ber one ranked player?' I think that is less im­por­tant. It's more im­por­tant for me to put my­self in good po­si­tions, week-in, week-out."

And while some worry her ca­reer is on a slip­pery slope and are quick to point the fin­ger at gear, caddy and coach is­sues and the im­pact her par­ents have over her ca­reer, maybe we shouldn't worry too much.

She clearly isn't.

Ly­dia Ko dur­ing the third round of the U.S. Women's Open Cham­pi­onship at Trump Na­tional Golf Club Bed­min­ster, New Jersey.

(L-R) Michelle Wie and Ly­dia Ko dur­ing the fi­nal round of the HSBC Women's Cham­pi­ons.

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