Lydia Ko looks to turn corner at 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship
Sometimes, it is hard to remember that Lydia Ko is still only 23 years old.
Since turning pro in 2014, she’s been World No. 1 twice, winning 15 times, including two majors. But competing against the world’s most talented players can leave battle scars. Even for a talented player with nearly $10.5 million in career earnings.
Ko began working with a new swing coach, Sean Foley, earlier this year, hoping to unpack the baggage from her golf game. She’s currently 36th in the Rolex Rankings, but if anybody can come from the back of the pack to win this week’s 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Aronimink, it could be Ko. She’s taken several weeks off to prepare. Ko will tee off with Nelly Korda and Charley Hull at 1:01 p.m. Thursday and 8:21 a.m. Friday.
“Hopefully I'm feeling good,” she said at her Tuesday press conference. “You know, I'll be able to know on Thursday. But I think this is a pretty tricky golf course. Personally, I don't think it'll be a very low score around here, so you just have to be really consistent, and I think hitting a lot of fairways is going to be key. With the rain overnight on Sunday and Monday, I think there's going to be a lot of growth to it. Keeping it on the fairways and playing smart when you're out of position is going to be key, and I think you just have to be patient like at any other major.”
She’s won just once, the 2018 LPGA Mediheal, since 2016. She has shown glimpses of promise with two top 10s this season among nine starts. Foley is helping guide her back to that happy place.
“Sometimes he says when I ask him a question or there's something, he'll say, just go out there, dig a little hole, put all your bad, crappy thoughts in there and then put the sand over it and never look at it again. I actually did that in my back garden,” Ko said. “I didn't dig a hole, but he told me to put this -- we have this thing that I do technically, and he was like, go get a little canoe tombstone thing and put it on the ground, and I actually did it. So I sent him a picture and I said, ‘See? I did it’.
“ … I think it's just as important to kind of clear those questions in your head like mentally and philosophically, and I think he's really helped me in that aspect where I just kind of bury it and then just walk away and try and not think about it again.”
Ko has turned to fitness to relieve other worries. She’s working out more. “I've been keeping in good contact with my trainers to make sure I'm doing the right things, and they have an app that I'm able to go straight on and see some of the exercises I can do with the bands or a few equipment that I have” on the road, she said. “It's definitely difficult, so I think in the off weeks I've been trying to do more strength and more weight work then and then do more conditioning and body weight stuff on the road.”
She’s drinking one protein shake a day. She’s also playing tennis socially with friends in her Lake Nona community and taken up running. “To me personally, I love - I don't like running - but I like the feel of after a run, you sweat it out,” she said. “I feel like some of the stress or things you kind of keep in are expressed out.”
What’s the best stress reliever of all for a player the caliber of Ko? Winning her first major since the 2016 ANA Inspiration sure would help. Aronimink will be a difficult test, no doubt.
“I love that this is a very traditional style golf course,” she said. “A lot of big trees, tighter fairways, and I really think the biggest characteristics about this golf course is that it doesn't -- obviously you need to hit it straight, but I don't think it plays in the favor of any distance hitter. I think there's bunkers here, there and everywhere, so it kind of goes into play for everyone, so I think anyone who's really consistent is going to be a big key.”