04 Jan 2022

Lydia Ko explains her return to form

Between 2012 and 2016 she dominated the LPGA Tour and was crowned World Number One at just 17. She looked unstoppable with two Majors to her name and then all of a sudden the well ran dry. A brief spell of form returned in 2018 with victory at the LPGA Mediheal Championship before the winless draught returned. Determined to get back on top she teamed up with Tiger’s old coach Sean Foley and went to work in the gym, harder than ever in a quest to become the best once again.  2021 was another turning point with two victories and her 18 birdies in 36 holes during the Saudi Ladies Invitational showed the hard work was paying off. We caught up with Lydia at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club to find out more.

How have you been able to find your winning form again this season?
Lydia Ko: Last year during the pandemic we had a solid six or seven months off during the season, and our off-season is usually around two months and that’s not really a lot of time to rest and get ready. Obviously it was not the most ideal circumstances with people being affected by Covid, but it was a time for me to reflect, take a step back and assess where my game was at. I was working with Sean Foley and he was able to clear some of the questions in my head and I played pretty consistently in the four months that we played after the re-start. 

We worked on the same things, kept things simple. When you put yourself in contention and you have more good rounds under your belt – golf is a very ‘rhythm’ game and you’re able to feed from that. I played really well at the ANA Inspiration and I was able to feed off the good energy that I had, and that led into the week in Hawaii.

Is it fair to say that you had maybe been over-thinking things and putting too much pressure on yourself?
LK: Yeah I think so, I put a lot of expectation on myself and at the same time was losing a lot of self confidence and belief.
I think as I began to play a bit more consistently that helped. Winning in Hawaii gave me the confidence that I can get back in the winner’s circle. So, it was more about proving it to myself than to anyone else.

Sean Foley is a technical coach, with TrackMan and using statistics. Is he like that with you?
LK: I think that is how some people from the outside looking in might see it, but for me, we have not been that technical at all. Obviously we do look at numbers when we’re looking at club adjustments because some things you can’t see on video or with the naked eye. So it’s good to have technology. But he hasn’t been overly technical with me. We always do alignment stuff, which is golf 101. But those are the basic things that need to be right so you can set up for the rest of the swing. 

He has helped me with the technical side but at the same time a lot of the stuff that goes on between the ears and clearing out some of the questions in my head. 

Sometimes when I don’t have that self belief he is the one that puts the belief back in me. His perspective has helped a lot. When things are not going well, he will say things like ‘maybe it just needs time for you to get used to it, we’re not quite there yet’, so I think it’s good that I have someone on my team that I really trust and I believe in. He helps me stay grounded and has definitely been more than just a technical swing coach.

He’s definitely the best-groomed golf coach I’ve ever seen.
LK: He is always dressed very sharp. I wish I could look as good as him!

 

PXG – you’ve been loyal to them, have you changed any gear in the last 12 months or so?
LK: I have a new putter which went in the bag a couple of weeks ago. Apart from that, my iron model and wedges, hybrid, drivers and woods – I haven’t touched that set up in almost two years, though I have changed around with the ball. I used a different Titleist model, but other than that I have the same stuff. I love my PXG 5-wood, I think I’ve had that close to three years. I have a new, unused version of it, but even though my older one is scratched I love it so much that I haven’t changed it. Sean calls it the money-maker!

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
LK: I would say to be patient and I would suggest some advice that I got from Stacey Lewis early in my career – she said ‘don’t try and be the person you are at your best, you need to be the best you can at this exact moment’. 

That was pretty monumental for me. I think sometimes you can compare yourself to others. But you go through so many experiences and you develop. You can’t ever be the same person. You just need to be the best version of yourself in the present moment and don’t try and chase or become your past.

You won in a Hawaii by seven shots – how did that victory differ both mentally and physically compared to lifting your first title on the LPGA in 2012?
LK: Right now I probably hit my driver around 15-20 yards further than back in 2015/16, when I was playing some of my best golf. It’s great to be hitting it longer, but when I was struggling my ball striking wasn’t as good as in the earlier years. Now I have worked on that area over the last year, which has helped with my overall confidence in my game, especially  when the striking isn’t perfect.

How hard is to win multiple events in a season compared to your 2012 to 2016 reign?
LK: It’s different in that there are so many top players. Nelly Korda had an amazing year with three wins including a Major and then won the Gold Medal at the Olympics. Ko Jin Young, who won five times, including four in a three-month span between September and November. So it’s hard with how dominant both those players are. At the same time, it is really hard to win anyway. There are so many girls playing great golf week in-week out, and that’s why there hasn’t been too many multiple winners this year, because it is that much harder to win.

The Aramco Series – what does it mean to have a sponsor like that bringing big money to the women’s game, not just in America but around the world?
LK: It’s a very different format, playing in Saudi Arabia; London; Spain and New York. So they obviously trust and have the belief in growing women’s golf.  It is great Aramco want to be a part of this empowerment of getting more juniors into the game, more women involved and showing the power of women. Hopefully many other brands and people in different industries will take interest in women’s golf and it will keep developing and growing for the next generations.

How did you find playing in Saudi Arabia?
LK: Royal Greens is a great course. The wind plays a huge factor around there. In the morning it is very calm and very sauna-like, hot and sticky. But when the wind picks up and comes off the Red Sea the temperature drops and you have to adjust

The wind can really affect the yardages,as some holes become very short with the tail wind, while others into the breeze can play two clubs or more compared to still conditions. So the wind plays a huge factor around there, especially on the last few holes when the water comes into play and you really have to focus and trust your game.

What would you do to change the women’s game to make it more appealing to youngsters?
LK:I don’t know about changing, but I would like to add different formats to the game. Whether it’s match play like the Solheim Cup, or a mixed team event like Henrik and Annika’s event in Sweden, we need to appeal to the non golfer to get them interested. As four solid rounds of stroke play can be boring if you don’t understand the game. Also, the golf industry is big, but it could grow more by having people from different industries taking interest in it. 

Sports fans are use to supporting teams. The Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup receive the highest following of non golfers than any other events on tour. So more team formats around the world would be a great way to drive interest. Why not have teams from every continent compete against each other. It would be great one day to see a Middle East team take on Asia or Europe.

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