Lydia Ko, holding her club to the left in an effort to direct her ball that way, didn’t like it. For a few minutes, two observers either.
“Wow, I didn’t expect that,” said NBC analyst Karen Stupples, a longtime gamer herself.
“There’s no reason to be there,” said Morgan Pressel, also a commentator and veteran.
“Responding that way is so surprising,” Pressel later added.
“It’s one thing for Leona to kick it in the water – it was a bad shot – but I’m completely floored that Lydia was following her in there,” Stupples later added.
Ko was up on a Sunday in the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship. She had five holes to play at the Tiburon Golf Club. She was in the middle of the fairway after her tee shot on the par-5 14th from 527 yards. She had just watched Leona Maguire, her closest pursuer in the LPGA-winning season-ending two-mile run, put one in a swamp.
She dumped her too. Ko didn’t go left, where you could set up a parking lot with the whole room on the right in dogleg. Instead, Ko tried to park his ball parallel in a narrow window of water, bunkers and little grass to the right. And you and Karen Stupples and Morgan Pressel asked why.
And Ko said why not.
Then she won. Together.
On the hole in question, Ko didn’t want to go that far to the right. But she was not going to the left. Or maybe more accurately, she didn’t need at.
Everyone else be damned.
Then, on Sunday, Ko reflected, as the glow of victory tends to make one. The 2014 CME winner, she put her name to the event – though Ko isn’t the biggest fan of this tournament photo of her 17 in glasses, thank you very much – and there was a conversation earlier in the week about who was the better player: the phenomenal teenager, or the 25-year-old who got a little lost but is now the world No. 2.
Ko’s mother knew this answer.
“My mom sometimes plays jokes on me,” young Ko said on Friday. “She’s, like, ‘You were playing so much better when you were, like, 15.’
“I was, like, ‘Thank you, mom. Okay, what am I supposed to do with this information?
Good product. Is she right? Who’s to say? Jump forward a few years, to 2015 and 2016, and Ko has won nine times, including two majors. This year, she has won three times. And you should take all this in your own estimation.
That too. The exchange is long, but Ko is an excellent storyteller, and there is one remarkable point.
“I’m just curious, when you look at that girl that year in 2014 maybe compared to the woman you are now, how do you compare?” a reporter asked on Sunday.
“Yeah, I think that week I flew in from Mexico because we had Lorena [Ochoa] event the week before,” Ko began. “I was going into the week a bit tired, and I remember I hadn’t played so well. So that year was the first time we had the million dollars for the Globe outside of the event. I think if you were in the top nine at the start of the race, you had the possibility of winning the Globe if you won the event. I ended up do that.
“I think I played some extra holes that day, and I was in the playoffs with Carlota [Ciganda] and Juliet [Granada], and the three of us had very different styles of players. I think there was a point in the playoffs where I really thought I lost because Carlota hit a very close shot there, but obviously she ended up missing the putt.
“You know, a lot has happened since. I was 17 in 2014. I don’t feel like 25 right now. There’s been a lot of ups and downs on and off the golf course, but all of those moments created moments like today. I think so, maybe when I was younger I was maybe playing a little more freely because I was a little distraught at the same time.
“But now, you know, I’ve been through my share of ups and downs, and I think that’s helped me realize that, hey, we’re going to have good days and we’re going to have bad days as well. I think my perspective on how I deal with bad moves or bad events is much better now than it was then.
“I hope I’ve grown as an individual since then, and I think golf is very connected to life in general, and I think golf also keeps you very humble. It’s a course of I’m still learning, but I’m thrilled with where I’m at in life and on the golf course. But, you know, I don’t miss the times when I wear glasses and have to clean my lenses as well. Yeah.”
At this point, Ko laughed. And remember, all of the above came after 72 holes at the tournament with the richest prize money in LPGA history. We will continue.
“Just as a follow-up,” said one reporter, “would you say you’ve kind of regained the same kind of freedom you were playing with back then, just in a different way?”
“I think so,” Ko said. “I think I’m freer now knowing that, hey, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Sometimes I can set my intention at 100%, and it doesn’t matter like I had planned it.
“Then sometimes I don’t think it’s going to be okay, and it’s okay. So I think all of these experiences help me become more free because at the end of the day, it’s like a gamble. Yes, you kind of want this to go in your favor, but I can’t — like, just because I’m getting more controlling, it’s not going to do anything good for me.
“So I think just letting go, and I’ve been saying all year, you know, what’s meant to be is going to be. I want this to be how I envision it, but at the same time, I play alongside the best female golfers in the world, and I know it’s not easy, so I just have to focus on me, and if I’m doing a good job with what I have in front of me, then that’s all I can really ask for.”
All that is not to say that this version of Ko is shooting flags and hitting putts from 6 feet. She still calculates. But you learn things.
Like the playbook for when your ball goes a little too right.
In short, the 14th of Ko Sunday was surgical. Exactly. No nerves. She repaired the damage, with barely a scar.
After finding her ball in an unplayable spot, she tumbled, hit her fourth shot about 30 feet out, and threw two putts for a bogey. Maguire also bugged and Ko’s advantage held at one.
After a par of 15, she birdied 16. And 17. The standings read: KO, 17-under; Maguire, under 15; Anna Nordqvist, under 14.
After Ko parred 18, this is how the ranking reads at the end. She’ll be heading for a winner next year.
And now we look to the future. We’ll do it with a question.
What if one of the greatest female golfers of all time was no longer afraid to take risks because she can recover from any consequence?
While you ponder the answer, we’ll end with this line from Pressel, after Ko’s birdie on the 16th.
“Look how stoic and calm and collected she looks. Like, yeah, that’s what I’m supposed to do.
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