Letter to my 15-year-old Self

Dear 15-year-old Lydia:

So much is about to happen – wonderful things and hard things; things that will create joyful memories and hurtful things that will bring you to tears. You will learn and grow as a person from all of them.

The most important piece of advice I could give you is to never take a single day, a single moment for granted. Soak up every experience and embrace every feeling, good and bad, that comes your way. The game you love is a vehicle that allows you to go places, meet people and learn things that others might never know or understand. But you have to slow down and take your eyes off the road every so often or you will miss the scenery.

You have to pause and appreciate the interactions with your fellow players. When you win your first LPGA event as an amateur in Vancouver, the whirlwind will shock you. You won’t understand or appreciate the significance of the moment. That’s okay. You’re a kid. The most important thing to remember is the encouragement you receive. Stacy Lewis will walk beside you in the final round and say, “You’ve got this. You’re playing well. Now, finish strong.” That moment will take your breath away, not just because Stacy is a fellow competitor, but because she has been the No.1 player in the Rolex Rankings and is an ambassador for the women’s game. For her to take the time to encourage you in the middle of a final round is an example you will remember and aspire to emulate.

For a while, winning will seem routine, almost automatic. You will lose track of all the “firsts” and “youngest evers” you set. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s easy. And don’t for a moment believe it will last forever. The truest axiom of golf is this: no matter how you are playing, it will change. One week, one season, one year or two, every shot will seem simple and every putt will look like a tap-in. Then, a week or two later, maybe longer, the shots that used to land exactly where they should will fall just a fraction to the left or right. The putts that seemed to find the center of the hole will veer off by mere centimeters. Don’t panic. The game hasn’t abandoned you. You haven’t forgotten how to play.

Golf is hard. That is why so many fans come out to see it being played well. They understand the hours on the range that it takes to build a solid, repeatable golf swing. They understand the sweat and frustration that goes into thousands of bunker shots. They appreciate the dedication it takes to make 100 6-footers before dinner. And they appreciate the nerve required to hit shots under pressure. 

There is good news. Just as quickly as the game can slip away, with hard work and self-belief it can come back. And when it does, you will be stronger and wiser for having traveled the rough road to get there.

A few more things you should know: Your golf swing may come and go, but your family and friends, the people who care about you, will love you no matter what you shoot. Trophies are symbols of what you’ve accomplished in the past. Your family and friends represent who and what you can be in the future. Their hugs, their presence, their laughter is life’s greatest victory.

Also, you may be young, but you are your own person. The independent streak you feel will only grow as you mature. But independence comes with responsibility. The decisions you make are yours. Others will criticize you and will question those around you, assuming you are being manipulated or led. Those criticisms and accusations will wound you – knives thrown at those close to you always cut deeper than those you field yourself – but they also make you stronger and more appreciative of the people who stand by your side. Just as you are responsible for the shots you hit in competition and the scores you post on your card you are also responsible for the decisions you make that got you there. The advice of others is important. But the decisions are yours. Own them.

Reaching world No.1 is exciting and will teach you a lot. But going through change, struggling with your game and wrestling with some of the tough choices you have to make, that is the fertile ground where growth occurs.

Finally, young Lydia, that instinct you have to remain approachable and engaging is the right one. The laugh that people can hear from the tennis courts and know that it’s you, that is something you should never change, no matter how self-conscious you sometimes feel. When you recognize a volunteer and want to say ‘hi,’ don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about how it looks. Be yourself, first and always. If you do that, words like “brand” and “image;” “platform” and “presence,” will take care of themselves. 

Be you. And be happy. Do that, and everything else is going to be fine.