Lydia Ko, a couple of minutes after missing a putt that would have tied her at the top of the Olympic women’s golf tournament, and a couple of minutes before heading to a playoff for the silver medal, was thinking of neither. Nelly Korda had just won the gold. She was greeted first on the 18th green at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan by her older sister, Jessica. But next came Ko, arms spread wide open in the direction of Nelly. She’d add a fist bump for Jessica. As the scene ended, Nelly walked off to applause from Ko.
Classy. Compassionate. Ko.
Only, it maybe gets better. Hold her medal, if you will.
Ko, seconds before teeing off on 18 on the first hole of the playoff, is squatting to the right of the tee box, sifting through her bag. An official had told Ko and Mone Inami, the other player in this playoff, the hitting order, but there’s a little confusion. Ko looks up. “You’re first, and I’m second,” she calmly says. “Good luck.” The order is followed, Inami stripes one down the middle, and Ko compliments her: “Nice shot.”
Classy. Compassionate. Ko. Continued.
But just wait. Maybe the best is yet to come. Call it the gold, silver and bronze moments of this tournament, though you can order them in a different way and we won’t argue here. They’re all great.
Ko had hit her tee shot in the playoff into the right fairway bunker and could manage only a layup short of the green before pitching to about 6 feet. Inami, meanwhile, was home in two, about 30 feet away from birdie and the silver. She’d putt, and it would miss to the right.
A few yards away, Ko pointed to the left.
A couple of minutes after missing a putt that would have tied her at the top of the Olympic women’s golf tournament, and a few seconds from potentially putting for second, Ko was thinking of neither. As Imani putted, Ko wished only for her opponent’s ball to go in. She’d add: “Nice putt.”
“She just radiates a warmth out there,” announcer Rich Lerner said on the Golf Channel broadcast. “She’s a model for the way, I think, a young player should conduct themselves, carry themselves outside of competition.”
“I would say any player, Rich,” analyst Paige Mackenzie said. “Remember, it’s still a game. Especially when she rose to No. 1 in the world, she was so unique in that nature that it looked like she was just enjoying herself, that she was actually just playing. She jokingly said after the round yesterday that she got a text message from her coach, Sean Foley, that he wanted to see her teeth more, to smile a little bit more on the course.
“She’s always been a gold medalist in that regard.”
Some work, of course, was left to do. That miss opened the door for Ko to extend the playoff with a make of that 6-footer. She’d miss too. Silver for Inami.
And a hug from Ko.
“I think at the end of the day, I was just trying to focus on the best golf I can play, and in my mind, I kept saying what’s meant to be is going to be and I just got to be fully committed and trust my shots and just execute the way I am trying to envision in my mind,” Ko said afterward. “When I’m out there playing, I wish, I hope everyone’s playing well, and I think that’s just great for golf. The golf fans and everyone watching, they want to watch good golf, and I think that was kind of the case this week. The finish was exciting, there was a playoff, there was a bunch of birdies coming in, and that’s what they’re looking for, right?
“So I feel like we put on a good showcase, I got hot in the middle stretch of my front nine to kind of put myself in a position, and in any other circumstances, if you come fourth, fifth or whatever, it’s a really good result, but because you know that there’s only going to be three medalists, I think you’re grinding a little harder, and you’re like, every shot really counts.
“There were moments that, man, I said, man, I wish it had gone better, but no matter what, you always feel like you can do better. But to be able to stand on the podium at the end of the day, it’s a huge honor, and to be able to do that for New Zealand, I’m very proud of that.”