Lydia Ko had just finished up on the practice putting green at the JTBC Founders Cup on Wednesday when I spotted her headed to the range. In short order, she was “nonchalanting” one short iron after another at the pin on the mock green in the middle of the range of the Wildfire Golf Club at the Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix, Arizona.
Not sure how long she would be and really looking forward to speaking with her in person, I waited until she handed the club to her caddie and pulled a graphite shaft with no head from her bag:
“Lydia, I write a daily golf mastery blog and I was wondering if you would have time for a brief interview when you’re done?”
She looked at me quizzically, “An interview?”
“Yes, I’m interested in how you do what you do. Not so much the mechanical stuff, but rather the way of being that allows you to play so freely.”
She looked at me quizzically, a frown growing on her face. “I’m not doing anything different than what everybody else is doing out here. I’m sorry, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Well, yes you do,” I said. “And I’m trying to get a sense of what that is.”
“I just don’t have anything to say on that.”
“Okay, thank you very much. (Smiling) I’ll catch you next year.”
She smiled back, thought some more and then helpfully said, “The only thing I can think of is that I just have fun. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Not wanting to interrupt her practice further, I gave her a big broad smile and said, “Okay, thank you very much, Lydia.” Still smiling I pointed at her and said again, “I’ll check back with you next year.”
And she smiled back from behind her big round glasses.
I had the chance to follow her on the back nine of Thursday’s first round. She was paired with World No. 1, Inbee Park, and Jessica Korda. And much to my surprise, she was longer than either one of them. They were all playing great, going for pins, making putts. Coming down 18, Lydia had the lead at 6-under along with Gerina Piller.
Completely out of character, she pulled her tee shot into the desert which was marked as a lateral hazard and went on to make a bogey.
After her round, the media “gaggled” around her after she signed her scorecard. They began with exactly what happened on 18 and she described it objectively.
Yeah, I was in the hazard, and it wasn’t really a playable lie out of the hazard, even though there is no water in it. So I took a drop, and then I was going to drop on the path, so I took another drop from there, and I was under the tree still and I had to punch a shot out there, and it was a really good shot, giving myself a 15‑foot putt for par was good in that kind of situation.
Q. I followed you on the back. You didn’t miss a shot until then.
Yeah. I normally eat more than I did today, and I normally eat a lot. That’s saying something. And I forgot to bring like my food and my protein bars.
Q. Ran out of gas?
Let’s say that. That’s my excuse, so I’ll bring food tomorrow.
She was asked if she had ever been paired with Inbee before and if she enjoyed it?
Yeah. I really have fun. I’ve been paired with Jess the last couple of times, so I’m more used to Jess than Inbee. But no, I played with her at Swinging Skirts, so lucky [today] wasn’t my first. I was really nervous when I was playing with her for the first time, but she’s such a great player and there are so many things to learn from her. She’s just cruising her way through and making birdies and 6‑under it is.
And later in the gaggle, I saw a chance to tease an answer out of her that I was unable to get Wednesday:
Q. You said you were really nervous when you played with Inbee the first time. You always look so calm. How do you manage your nervousness?
Well, even though I’m nervous, people think I don’t look nervous. I don’t know why. I’m like trembling inside.
But yeah, I think the most nervous I’ve been was at the U. S. Open when it was at Blackwolf Run in 2012, and I couldn’t line up the line on my ball on the first hole. I was getting really shaky hands, but luckily it’s not that kind of huge nerves kind of thing. It’s controllable.
Q. So how do you do that?
I don’t know. (Laughs). Yeah. I don’t really have like a secret way of controlling it.
And to her credit, I believe her.
There was a funny exchange at the end of the session to reveal the real teenager she is away from the golf course:
Yeah, off the course, I get into the hotel and I’m ready for like TV. My mom’s like get in the shower. But first thing I do is like turn on TV, look at my phone, and technology, it’s good. It’s helping me out, but sometimes I think I need that to kind of get away from everything. But it’s good to kind of see that there is like nobody there and you can do anything and nobody will care.
And what kind of shows does she watch?
I watch a lot of like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds,” and then I get like freaked out and, oh, my God, if this happens to me. And then I keep watching it anyways.
Is she worried that that stuff might happen to her on the golf course?
Well, obviously I won’t be stabbed or anything on the course. That will be way out of my imagination.
Q. Stay close to mom; right?
And then she was off, presumably to the mayhem of CSI and Criminal Minds.