I was reading an article the other day about Lydia Ko. You remember her? The bespectacled Kiwi schoolgirl burst onto the women’s golf scene at the age of 15, winning her first LPGA start, the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open. She was the youngest player, man or women, to win on a major tour and this accomplishment preceded a host of other “youngest ever” achievements. Later that year she won the New Zealand Women’s Open on the Ladies’ European Tour (LET) – the youngest-ever winner, of course, and the youngest-ever multiple winner on any professional tour. She amassed four professional wins before actually joining the paid ranks and playing full time on the LPGA in 2014.As night follows day more successes followed and the report card in 2014 read 26 tournaments played, 26 cuts made, three wins and more than $2 million in the bank. She was 17 years of age. If anything 2015 was even better. Lydia became world No 1 in February, the youngest player, male or female, to do so. She won five times that season, including her first major and continued to break every record in sight, displaying very few weaknesses, either technically or mentally. She was seemingly more tiger-esque than Tiger. The following year she rattled off four wins, including a second major and won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. In total she spent 130 consecutive weeks at the top of the world rankings and had 14 wins and two majors to her name.
There is still a Ko at the head of the women’s world rankings but it is a different Ko. As I write, it is Jin Young Ko of South Korea who is atop the mountain. Lydia has only won once in the last four years and has slipped to 55th in the Rolex Rankings. How can this happen to a player who seemingly had it all? Is she burnt out at the age of 23 because of playing at such an elevated level so early in her life? Will she recover to have a second top-class career as Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker and arguably even Tiger Woods have done?
A couple of things happened. Lydia’s body shape changed quite a bit with increased work-outs in the gym – that may or may not have had something to do with her loss of form. Never the longest hitter, she was seeking more power – and then there was the merry-go-round of coaches and caddies whom she seemed to hire and fire at an ever quickening rate. As an amateur in New Zealand she worked on her game with Guy Wilson. As a professional she has worked with David Leadbetter, Gary Gilchrist, Ted Oh, David Whelan, Jorge Parada and now Sean Foley. All top-class coaches but SEVEN (that I know of) by the time you’re 23??
Despite her eternally impeccable demeanour, her outward calm and her sunny disposition this constant changing seems to be indicative of confusion and lack of focus in her mental game. Unfortunately, she seems to be turning to swing gurus to help her out whereas it would seem to me to be her mind that needs changing, not her swing.
She has lost trust in what she used to do so well and so instinctively and her mind is busy searching for answers. Her mind and body are out of sync and top-class performance cannot be accessed when that is the case. If she can clear her mind of interference and regain her clarity, commitment and composure, she will start hitting those world-class golf shots again – her body hasn’t forgotten how to do it, it’s just her mind isn’t letting her do it at the moment.
All very easy to write and not so easy to do but there’s nothing I’d love more than to see the Kiwi find her winning form again. She is one of the most generous and likeable sports stars and having declared several years ago she would retire from golf at the age of 30 that only leaves us seven years to watch this artist at work. It’s all within her – if she can unlock her mind again her best may well still be ahead of her. I certainly hope so.Since writing that last paragraph, and as I continued my research into Lydia, I came across a clip from last year where she reveals that she has taken up yoga and meditation and is enjoying clearing and “freeing” her mind and learning to stay “calm and quiet”. I sincerely hope this will be the catalyst that allows her to unlock all of her superb skills and talent. I am so much more heartened by this news and suspect it could be much more important than yet another change of swing instructor. Fingers crossed.