At the Tournament of Champions, Lydia Ko is looking to become one, once again

Lydia Ko signs autographs at Lake Nona.

Lydia Ko is looking for her first win since September 2022.

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

It’s not often a competitor in a professional golf tournament will watch a film about someone else in the same field, but that’s exactly what Lydia Ko did Friday night.

OK, so Mardy Fish and Ko are not exactly competing in the same division this week at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, but the point stands. Ko flipped on the documentary Untold: Breaking Point on Fish and his struggles with anxiety and mental health challenges.

“It just shows that like there is more to like your sport or whatever you do than people think,” Ko said after her third round. “To know and feel and you said that there is people that go through whether it’s pressure, anxiety, or whatever these emotions that other people go through it you feel like you’re not alone. I’m going to take that all in and be excited to play one more round out here.”

The last year certainly hasn’t been easy for Ko as she’s coming off the worst season in her LPGA career. That’s got her in the position of ironically trying to break a win drought at the “Tournament of Champions,” the LPGA’s season-opening event.

Last year was one of the more puzzling years for Ko. Not so much for failing to win. She’s had droughts before in 2017, 2019 and 2020. But because it seemed she had left some of those struggles behind after what she called a “Cinderella story.”

She won three times on the LPGA, including the CME Group Tour Championship and got married. It was her first multi-win season since 2016.

Then, she decided to make some huge changes. She split from swing coach Sean Foley and changed caddies as well.

In 2023, she fell from first in the LPGA’s season-long points race to 100th, the worst finish of her career by 65 places. After finishing T6 in her first start of the season in Thailand, she didn’t finish better than 31st again until late October. But she was open about her struggles. She gave a five-minute response when asked about the state of her game in September.

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“I think I went into the year with like a lot of self-pressure,” she said then. “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.”

That’s why the documentary on Fish, who won the celebrity division of this week’s event last year, resonated with her.

“I think when people are looking, you don’t realize what that person is going through, and sometimes you could be at your best, like Mardy was,” she said Saturday, after a third-round 68 to give herself a two-shot lead at 12 under heading into the final round at Lake Nona. “It wasn’t like he was at a low time in his career. I think I too, when I was No. 1 the first time around, there were things going through my head.

“I remember sometimes saying, man, I wish I wasn’t on Golf Channel and I wish the camera didn’t catch me hitting the shot just in case I didn’t hit a good shot. I think those are thoughts — I mean, everybody varies to a certain point but those things are very I think normal. It’s not weird.

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“To kind of see that, and see somebody that’s in the industry but plays a different sport and now he’s playing golf, it was really cool. I thought it was really relatable in ways and awesome that like he came out and was vulnerable and to tell his story to other people to help other people, I thought that was awesome.”

This wouldn’t even be the first time in the last six weeks Ko has drawn inspiration from someone else in a field. In December’s Grant Thornton Invitational, she paired with Jason Day, who himself broke a five-year winless drought in 2023.

“He gave me like confidence in myself when I felt like I was letting the team down a little bit,” Ko said Saturday of the pairing. “To see the things that like I worked with my coach, worked on with my coach kind of work out, and for me to hit some of those really good shots coming down the stretch when it like meant the most, I think it gave me a little bit of assurance to say, hey, what I’m doing is good.”

Day and Ko won that week in Naples, a significant turning point for the Kiwi, despite it not being an official event.

“Winning alongside Jason at Grant Thornton was a confidence booster,” she said. “The perfect kind of ending to the season.”

That was her last appearance of 2023. Now, in her first appearance of 2024, she’s looking to do the same thing: Win, once again.

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