She’s better than ever but the rankings don’t reflect it yet. It’s been seven years since Lydia Ko first reached No.1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and looked unstoppable. But if you watch her now, you see it. You know. She’s better now than at any point in her career – longer, straighter, more disciplined, and with a precision in her iron game that makes you shake your head and say wow out loud.
Just look at the bogey-free 66 she shot on Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship, a number that moved Ko to 13-under par for the week and five shots clear of the field. Ko found every fairway, hit 13 greens and took only 25 putts to distance herself from the top players in the game.
What the stats don’t show you is how insanely accurate she has become with her wedges and how consistent she hits almost all of her irons. Every approach on Friday was either pin high or left in the perfect location for the easiest possible putt or up-and-down. Never once did it look like she would struggle to make par. After a semi-slow start, she made two birdies in a row on the front and two in a row on the back. Then she got the two par-5s, one with an easy pitch and one with a two-putt. Her birdie putt on 18 hit the high side of the hole going slow but lipped out for the easiest 66 you’ve ever seen.
“I think when I play freely, I'm not being tentative,” Ko said after her round. “I'm not controlling how the shot is going to go. I think that way it's just a little bit stress-free. If I do miss it – and, hey, I'm going to miss one here and there – but it's just a better place for me to be.
“Obviously when the nerves kick in, that bit is a lot harder, but I think when I was struggling, I got more and more tentative and trying to control the ball and trying to make it work. But sometimes all I can do is just put an aggressive swing on it, and if it goes where I want it to go, that's great. If not, I just have to deal with the next shot.
“I feel like I've been doing a better job of that this year. It's a process for me. Sometimes if I don't have good weeks, that kind of subconscious kicks in. But if I do better at (swinging freely), I feel like the other things are going to take care of themselves.”
Sure, the competition is better. Women’s golf is deeper than it has ever been. But does Ko think she is better now than she was when he held the No.1 spot in the world?
“I hope so,” she said with a laugh. “I hope so because it's seven years from then. But my mom does joke to me at times. She's, like, ‘You played so much better when you were, like, 15.’ I was, like, ‘Thanks, Mom. Okay, what am I meant to do with that information?’”
Then she turned serious and said, “I don't know about (being) better (than back then). I do know that I am more experienced now. Me playing as an amateur on the LPGA, I wanted to make the cut. It was such a cool experience to play alongside these ladies that I had watched on TV or I would open the Golf Magazine, and they were right there. It was a very different perspective.
“I also played less than a full schedule, so it's just different. I do feel a little bit experienced. Wiser? I don't know about that, but I am playing differently. I hit it a little bit farther than then. I'm sure there were parts (of my game) when I was younger and even in 2015 that I was better at, and also some parts that I have improved over that time. But it's just trying to bring it all together.
“But I think everybody has improved. It's hard to even keep your card (on the LPGA Tour) because the level of play is just so good. To win it's a whole new level.
“So, yeah, I do hope I'm better, and I do hope my mom is joking when she says I played better when I was 15.”
It’s definitely a joke. Ko played great at 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. But her best days are right now.