It’s hard to believe that Lydia Ko is only 24 years old.
Walking past a photo from her 2014 victory at the CME Group Tour Championship, Ko was taken aback by how much she’d changed.
“I feel like it’s been more than eight years,” she said, “but then, at the same time, I can’t believe it’s been eight years. Baby face Lydia, maybe I should rock the glasses again.”
The 2021 season felt like the start of a comeback for Ko, who currently ranks fifth in the world. She began winning on the LPGA at age 15 and rose to No. 1 at age 17. She has 16 career LPGA titles, including two majors.
“You would think she’s so much older than she is,” said current No. 1 Nelly Korda, who is 23.
“I had to double-take. Wait, you’re only that old? Only a year and a half or two years older than me? Like what?”
The Kiwi’s closing 62 at the ANA Inspiration last spring put the world on notice that something special was brewing. The next week, she won in Hawaii, ending a three-year drought on the LPGA.
Lydia Koposes with the trophy after winning the LPGA Lotte Championship at Kapolei Golf Club on April 17, 2021 in Kapolei, Hawaii. (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Two weeks ago, Ko won an event in Saudi Arabia on the Ladies European Tour and last Sunday, she in a four-way playoff to Korda at the Pelican Women’s Championship.
Ko has given credit to instructor Sean Foley for helping to build back her confidence, but she also pointed to a conversation with another former No. 1, Stacy Lewis, with helping to shape her perspective.
When asked to compare her game now – both physically and mentally – to where she was in 2015/2016 at her peak, Ko said there was a point when she was “very comparative” to herself when she was No. 1 in the world, and it didn’t put her in a good place.
“Stacy Lewis was actually somebody that advised me to say, ‘Hey, you got to be the best version of yourself now and not try to be who you were in the past.’ It meant a lot for somebody like her to say that to me, and then I think it really hit me then,” said Ko.
“So I’m different every tournament; every experience changes you. For the good or the bad, I don’t know. That’s why I said age is just a number, but experience is a whole new thing.”
The popular Ko is hitting it longer than she was five years ago. Her approach is different, too. The competition, she believes, might be tougher now than it was when she topped the world.
This week Ko will play alongside Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko in the first two rounds at Tiburon Golf Club. She must complete one round to be eligible for the Vare Trophy, having then met the minimum number of rounds requirement (70). While she’s ranked fourth on the tour in scoring, the three ahead of her – Nelly Korda (68.845), Jin Young Ko (69.032) and Yuka Saso (69.103) – are ineligible because they did not complete enough rounds. Ko currently has a 69.391 average.
Since 1992, there have been several high-profile names who led the tour in scoring but didn’t win the Vare, including Nancy Lopez (1993), Laura Davies (1996), Annika Sorenstam (2003, 2004) and Sei Young Kim (2021).
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Ko currently leads In Gee Chun by 0.317. Chun would need to average 63.679 at the CME to pass Ko’s current average. She needs to be 23 strokes better than Ko to win the Vare, which carries with it an LPGA Hall of Fame point. Ko currently has 19 Hall of Fame points, eight shy of the number required to qualify.
“I think it’s been a meaningful season for me on and off the golf course,” said Ko. “It’s been a season like, within my game, where I probably played some of the most consistent golf I have in my whole career. …
“I was actually talking to my mental coach about it, but it’s been, I think, some of the happiest moments in my short 24 years.”