BETHESDA, MARYLAND | She has always known that golf is hard, or at least that’s what she says now. But there was a time when the game looked as natural as flowing water for Lydia Ko, who set almost every “youngest ever” record in the game as a teenager. Ko won 14 times on the LPGA Tour, including two major championships, before the age of 20. In the process, she became our Arnold Palmer – casually charming, smart as a whip, quick, funny, and filled with charisma that matched her golf game. Plus, she was a kid, the kind of prodigy that made us know we had decades of great stuff to come.
Now, at 25 and still as thoughtful and delightful as ever, Ko has 17 total wins and remains stuck at two majors. She has played well, especially in the last two years, but victory has grown fickle with age, still a friend, but with far more infrequent visits.
Whether she will be spurned or embraced this week at Congressional Country Club remains anyone’s guess. Ko shot a 5-under 67 on Friday, the round of the morning, and sits in prime position to contend for this KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. But she can’t think that far ahead. With 36 holes remaining, all she can do is walk the path that got her here.
“I think the last few events I finished well,” the former Rolex Rankings No.1 said. “Whereas at the (beginning) of the year I started (events) well and didn't finish as well in regard to rounds three and four.
“I think the last couple of weeks it has been a few silly mistakes, a few shots where I lost focus a little bit costing me a couple of shots (that kept me from winning). Other than that, I feel like the game is in a pretty solid place.”
But she wanted everyone to know that a solid game is not a straight line to victory.
“I think it is very difficult to win,” Ko said. “The level of play on our tour is incredible. You can see that by the scores, week-in and week-out. It’s hard to win, but I'm trying to put myself in that kind of position. When you keep knocking on the door, you hope that one day that door will open.”
Her raps on victory’s door were answered so often in the early days of her career that it would have been easy to take winning for granted. But she said on Friday, “I think it was always hard. Everybody said (at that time), ‘Man, you make it look easy.’ And I was, like, ‘Well, it ain't easy.’ But I think when you get into some good momentum, it does feel more natural. You're not working as much. You're not grinding as much on the golf course.
“It's kind of like my front nine (on Friday),” she said. “Just hit one shot after another, and you give yourself opportunities. If it falls, great. If it doesn't, it doesn't. So, I think in ways it can feel like some days are easier than others. But I think the level of play and even the winning scores every year at some of these events, it keeps getting better and better. It just shows what the standard is in women's golf.
“I've just got to keep focusing on what I need to work on. Sometimes when you watch other people play and those people are playing well, you go, okay, maybe I should do this, maybe I should do that, try what somebody else is doing. But I think the important thing for me to realize is that most of the time I'm not going to have a perfect game.
“I'm just trying to put up the best score I can when I'm (playing), and when I'm practicing, just making sure that I'm doing the right things and working with my team and being really aware of what needs to be done.
“I think sometimes it feels like, oh, you're not putting as well, but maybe it's because you're (hitting more greens and) giving yourself more opportunities for birdies. It's just kind of finding that balance.
“I think taking that step back and really assessing where your game is, is such an important thing for me. I think it is for most people.”