There’s a nagging nostalgia for the past. A longing to recapture what once was. But leave it to 26-year-old Lydia Ko, who was the youngest to win on Tour at the age of 15, youngest player, male or female, to reach No. 1 in the world at the age of 17, and youngest to capture 10 wins by the age of 18 - to remind us that it’s impossible to go back. No matter how great that time might have been.
“I feel very fortunate about the things that happened earlier in my career. When I wasn't playing as well I think I wanted to try and be the person that I was and try and put myself back to when I was No. 1,” said Ko on Sunday. “But Stacy Lewis, a few years ago she said, ‘Hey, you know, you can't try and be like your past. You're trying to be the best player, best person you can be now.’”
Sunday, Ko captured the 17th win of her career at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, the second event of the LPGA Tour’s 2022 season. Ko led three of the four days in Boca Raton where she was locked in a daily duel with Danielle Kang, who was the winner the week before at the Tour’s season opener. The victory marks Ko’s third worldwide win in nine months. And with each victory Ko has further cemented her comeback status.
“Last year was a big turnaround year for me. Even the fall of 2020. When we had that long time off I think it was kind of a time for me to look back at what are the things I need to work on and just take a whole new approach to things,” Ko said after her win on Sunday. “When you keep knocking on the door you feel like at one point it's going to open.”
Ko’s climb back to the winner’s circle coincides with the LPGA Tour’s return following the COVID break. When the Tour returned to action in the summer of 2020, Ko was ranked No. 50 in the world. It was the lowest ranking of her professional career and she’d gone without a win in three years. But as questions about what happened to the former world No. 1 grew, Ko fought off the desire to try to recapture the magic she displayed as a child prodigy. Instead, she’s remained focusing on driving forward and, perhaps, becoming an even better version of herself.
“Sometimes you're going to take two steps back, but you just keep working and working at just trying to be the best,” Ko said. “I'm just trying to be the best version I can be today.”
It’s a fitting message which happens to match the same mantra that has spurred the LPGA forward in recent years - Drive On. The campaign celebrates the LPGA’s past through the recognition of its founders and the women who persevered to bring the Tour to where it is now. It also recognizes the athletes of today, who demonstrate their own resilience in fighting for their dreams while pushing the Tour to new heights.
Thursday, the Tour heads to Fort Myers for the fourth installment of the LPGA Drive On Championship at Crown Colony Golf and Country Club. Players will get a first look at the course beginning this week as the 54-hole event offers up an additional playing opportunity for the world’s best players. The event also caps off a three-week stretch to open the season in Florida before the Tour leaves the United States for its annual March swing through Asia. World No. 2 Nelly Korda headlines the field for the third consecutive week along with her sister, Jessica, Danielle Kang, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson.
“Just being able to drive to another event is always nice,” said Thompson, a Florida resident, about the Fort Myers event. “I haven't played the golf course but heard it's good, so just looking forward to going over there and seeing.”
While the LPGA Drive On Championship won’t be televised, new commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan is pushing the Tour to try something new. For the first time, coverage of the Championship will stream on the LPGA’s website. Additional afternoon coverage will also be available during each round on Peacock, NBC’s online streaming platform.
As the LPGA Tour looks forward, so should we. It’s a reminder that came with Ko’s win on Sunday. Now in her 10th season on Tour, the bulk of Ko’s career is behind her. She’s openly spoken about her plan to retire at the age of 30. What could the final years of Ko’s time on Tour hold? If there’s one thing that the once childhood prodigy has taught us it’s that there’s no sense looking in the rearview mirror. She’s not, so why should we? Especially when all signs point towards the next chapter for not just Lydia Ko, but the LPGA, being even better than the last.