Just look at the numbers. Lydia Ko has won three events in her last four starts. In between, she got married. While honeymooning in New Zealand she made her first hole-in-one outside of competition and set a women’s course record at the Tara Iti Golf Club.
“It was a pretty good day at the office,” Ko said with a shrug and a smile this week at Siam Country Club Pattaya as she prepared for her 2023 LPGA Tour debut at the Honda Thailand LPGA. “We played a lot of golf on our honeymoon. It's one of the mutual things that we both enjoy doing and can do together.”
Back to the numbers: Ko’s last 11 finishes have been an astonishing 1, 1, T26, 1, 3, T5, T16, 4, T7, T5, T3. In 2022, she finished first on the LPGA Tour in official money, CME Globe points, scoring average, sand saves, putts per green hit in regulation, and Player of the Year points. She finished second in total putting average at 28.61 putts per round for the entire year, third in birdies at 383, fourth in sub-par holes and fifth in rounds under par.
Here are her last 15 competitive scores, back to front: 68-66-69-64-70-70-66-65-70-69-68-65-66-68-68. As impressive as those numbers are, the fact that they extend back to September 29, 2022 is jaw-dropping. The last time Ko was over par in competition was September 2, a 1-over 72 at the Dana Open presented by Marathon. The last one before that was back in June.
So, how good is Lydia Ko these days? And where does she rank among the best our game has ever produced? Well, one quick answer can be found in LPGA Hall of Fame points. Ko is just three points shy of becoming the youngest player in history to earn membership into arguably the hardest hall in the world to enter. She also holds the record for the longest gap between stints atop the Rolex Rankings, having clawed her way back to No.1 after first reaching the top spot back in 2015.
“During a scrum interview (last year) my mom said that she thought I was better at (age) 15 than I am now. Thanks, mom,” Ko said with a twinkle in her eye after her latest win on the Ladies European Tour. “In some ways, though, she’s right. There are parts of my game that were probably better when I was 15, but there are parts of my game that have certainly improved.”
There are few statistics to back either side on that argument. Ko became the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA Tour event in August of 2012 when she was just 15. And she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur that summer, defeating Jaye Marie Green 3&1 at The Country Club in Cleveland. She played in four LPGA Tour events that season as an amateur and made the cut in all of them. Ko also received the Mark H. McCormack medal as the nation’s top amateur for the second year in a row when she was 15.
Bespeckled and physically young, Ko was better at golf than most people in the world at that time, but it was in the way that a kid is better at skateboarding than a 30-year-old – she played without fear, having fun with every step. There was no career concern, no concept of consequences. She would fire at flags, hitting one of the prettiest baby fades in the game. If that shot shape required starting the ball over a hazard, she took dead aim. Because she wasn’t the longest player – at 15, she hadn’t developed the speed or muscle mass that comes with adulthood – she hit a lot of hybrid shots that looked like they were going in the hole. The KPMG Performance Insights were not around back then, but if they had been, Lydia would have certainly led the tour in proximity to the hole with clubs that had headcovers.
Her wedges and putting were magical as well, in large part because she didn’t know when it meant to miss an important 10-footer. If a putt needed to be made, she made it, like the high-school basketball star who knows he’s going to hit the winning jumper. At 15, there haven’t been enough misses for scar tissue to develop.
At 25, things are different. Ko is longer than ever and will likely be in the top 25 in driving distance this season. She also has more shot shapes than when she first started. Rather than aim at the water and cut it to a tucked flag, she can now line up at the center of every green and shape shots to hole locations. And while she doesn’t make every putt, she still drains plenty. Fewer than 29 putts a round gets the job done most of the time.
“I'm playing three weeks in a row and then taking a week off and then playing another one, so hopefully I can continue the good momentum and not take anything for granted,” Ko said in Thailand before the start of play. “You know, I've been very thankful about the things that have happened in my life both on and off the golf course. I think a lot of great things have happened and it's actually helped me to have more fun out here.
“At the end of the day I know it's my job. But I might as well do it while having fun.“
At 15, 20, or 25, that sentiment sums up why Lydia Ko is the best in the world. And why she will likely go down in history as one of the greatest who ever played the game.