Lydia Ko was asked about her game. Her 5-minute answer got emotional
Lydia Ko was back. At least that’s what everyone thought last year, during her 3-win 2022 campaign.
There have been so many incredible moments in Ko’s career, but 2022 was a different kind of special. She won the LPGA Tour Championship and finally ascended back to World No. 1, a mark that had evaded her for more than five years. She married her husband in 2022 as well. It was “a Cinderella story” of a year, to use her words. All you’d want is to keep the train chugging along. To have another season like that one, change nothing. But golf and life are never that simple.
Instead, Ko has struggled throughout all of 2023. She kicked off the year with at T6, but she hasn’t sniffed the top 10 since. She’s missed four cuts, including last week’s event in Portland, which came on the heels of a Saturday 82 the weekend prior in Canada. Her dominant 2022 has kept Ko in good world ranking standing, so she still ranks 7th in the world, but even that won’t last forever.
This week, Ko is in Cincinnati with the rest of the LPGA Tour, and on Thursday she carded her first round in the 60s since July. She hovered in place with a second round 73, but sits in the middle of the leaderboard. With a decent weekend she’ll have her first top 30 finish since February. So naturally, the TV cameras are on her.
Kay Cockerill was conducting interviews for Golf Channel Friday and asked Ko a very simple question: How would you analyze where you are now mentally, physically, and with your game?
It was the only question she would be able to ask, not because Ko was offended, nor because Ko was in a rush. It was because Ko spent the next five minutes answering it.
“Yeah, I think last year was kind of like a Cinderella story,” Ko said. “You know, off the golf course, getting married to the person I love the most and, you know, winning CME, the last one of the year, it was kind of the cherry on top of the cake.
“You know, going into the year obviously every year is a new start, and even if you do have a good year you don’t really know what it’s going to be like, because that two months, a lot of things can happen between a week and the two months. For sure a lot of things can change.
“I think I went into the year with like a lot of self-pressure. You know, you do want to continue to be on a good momentum and play well when you are playing well because I’ve gone through my own ups and downs, and when things aren’t going well, it’s not very easy to come back out of that.”
This was no filibuster. Ko was just gushing out everything that came to her mind, and the various thoughts that have crept in throughout the LPGA Tour season. She called the first missed cut, at the first major of the year, the Chevron Championship, a wakeup call. She called out her short game as the main reason why her scoring average is three shots worse this year than last year. She admitted to being a perfectionist in her pursuit and that she’s learned golf is not about being perfect. It’s about getting it around and moving forward.
“I think that’s what I’ve got to slowly trust and know that I’m not trying to draw a straight line from point A to B, and point B to C and make a birdie,” she continued. “As much as you want it to be that easy, it’s not. If I said I’m okay with how I’ve been playing this season I think that would be a lie. It has been frustrating and I think disappointing, not from anybody else, but I think internally. You do want to back up a season like last year with another one.
“A lot of things have gone through my mind. This is my 10th year on Tour and you start thinking like, Oh, maybe is it that time? You just don’t know. I think a lot of thoughts do go through.”
Was Ko talking about the idea of retirement? Or the inevitable moment in every pro’s career when their form fades and they’re no longer in their prime? Golf rarely warns you when that is coming. And suddenly it’s there. As for retirement, Ko has been forthcoming about that topic her entire career, admitting she doesn’t plan on playing long into her 30s. She’s 26 now, but it’s a different 26 than most. Ko turned pro nine years ago and has led a 19-win career, the kind that most pros would dream about. She won more in her teens than most pros will win in their lives. But clearly she is not averse to the valleys that most pros deal with, too. And what that can do to your psyche.
“I was actually talking to Stacy Lewis’ parents after Saturday’s round in Canada,” Ko continued, referencing that 82. “Might have been the worst round I’ve had in my career and I like was talking to them and I kind of burst into tears because Stacy’s mother said, ‘Hey, no matter what, like your husband is always going to be there for you, no matter if you shoot a 62 or 72 or 82.’
“That just that really hit me. I’m very grateful for the people around me, and I don’t know how long I’m going to be playing, but while I’m playing, I want to try my 100% and give it all I got.”
When you put Ko’s thoughts down on paper, they may sound like someone who is beaten down, but she delivered this long string of thoughts with a smile on her face. You can watch the clip in its entirety here. Cockerill even ended the interview thanking Ko for the transparency, but acknowledging that Ko sounds like she’s on a swan song. Which brings us to the last thing Ko said before the broadcast turned back to showing golf shots:
“I think golf has given me gray hairs and maybe like some wrinkles, but at the same it’s given me so much joy. Through golf I even met my husband. I think at the end of the day it’s a gift and I’m grateful to be able to do this.”