One of the perils of sudden success is that when adversity finally does arrive it can be so shocking that recovery is anything but immediate. Such is the case with Lydia Ko. When all you’ve known is success, the stumbles hurt all the more.
On Sunday, Ko was poised to win for the first time in more than two years at the Marathon Classic but under relentless pressure from Danielle Kang, the hottest player in women’s golf right now, Lydia was slapped by adversity, finishing one stroke back after a double bogey on the final hole.
The twin tournaments in Toledo – the Marathon Classic and the Drive On Championship – were swept by Kang as the LPGA returned after the COVID-19 interruption, giving her three wins in the last 10 months.
The outcome was not what Ko hoped for, but the way she handled her heartbreaking defeat shows her true character.
“It's tough,” she said. “Obviously, not the finish that I had envisioned but Danielle played great today. Every time she made a mistake she fought back with a birdie, so credits to her,” said the 23-year-old New Zealander.
Lydia’s teenage years were all about nothing but success. There was a time when virtually every record in women’s golf that began with the word “youngest” ended with the name Lydia Ko.
When she won the Bing Lee Samsung NSW Open on the ALPG Tour on Jan. 27, 2012, she was, at age 14, the youngest to win a professional tournament.
A victory at the CP Women’s Open on Aug. 26, 2012, made her the youngest to win on the LPGA Tour – and she was still an amateur. When she won the Women’s Canadian again the next year, she applied for LPGA membership.
In October 2013, when the Tour granted the 16-year-old Ko's request to waive the minimum-age requirement of 18, Commissioner Mike Whan said, “It is not often that the LPGA welcomes a rookie who is already a back-to-back LPGA Tour champion.”
On Feb. 2, 2015, she reached No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, the youngest ever – male or female – to be best in the world.
Sept. 13 of that year she became the youngest winner of an LPGA major at the Evian Championship, closing with a 63, the lowest round ever in the final round of a women’s major.
On April 3, 2016, she took the ANA Inspiration to become the youngest with two LPGA majors.
Along the way, Lydia was Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year in 2014; Rolex Player of the Year in 2015 and won the race to the CME Globe both of those years.
She made the cut in her first 53 Tour events and in 2016 captured the silver medal at the Olympic Games.
Then the wins stopped.
When Ko took the Marathon Classic for a second time on July 17, 2016, at 19, she had 14 LPGA wins, including two majors. But after that victory she went 87 starts with only one win – and that was more than two years ago at the Mediheal Championship.
“It's good to be playing some better golf,” she said after letting a four-stroke lead get away from her on the back nine. “To see putts drop this week is nice. I think when you see that you get more and more confidence. I feel like that's what has been building the last couple weeks. So I'm planning to play five weeks in a row.”
Over the last four years, there have been swing changes, coaching changes, caddie changes and body changes for Ko. But what has never changed is her essential goodness or her Drive On spirit.
Never did she become short-tempered or surly. The hurt was always well hidden and there was never anyone who became collateral damage to her emotional pain. She always saw the world as bigger than golf and she maintained that perspective Sunday after Kang overtook her.
“I think I have to see the positives,” she said. “I'm pretty sure I'm going to be disappointed and go, ‘Oh, man, I should have done this over that.’ But I think there are so many positives from the week, and I feel overall like more confident in my game.”
For Ko, so much success came so quickly it was almost difficult to comprehend – both for the fans and for her. Looking back on it now, it is even more impressive. And looking ahead, it seems certain there are many more wins to come.
Professional golf, after all, is not a sprint. It’s a Marathon and Lydia Ko is in it for the long run.