Lydia Ko: Not Going Away

Lydia Ko continued her fine play on Saturday with a 5-under 67 in the JTBC Founders Cup at the Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, Arizona.

Playing with second-round leader, Mirim Lee, Ko birdied the par-5 2nd and eagled the par-5 5th, hitting to about five feet in two. Missing about a ten-footer on 8 and the green on 9, she settled the score with a birdie on 10. Interestingly, I heard her tell her caddie that her target on her tee shot was an orange umbrella moving down the right side of the fairway; she hit a slow pull hook down the left and still made birdie.

That birdie was neutralized with a bogey on 12. And after her birdie on 15 and a two-shot swing with Lee — who hit it into the desert and had to take an unplayable — she locked it up for the night with a last birdie on 17. It almost feels like she’s just willing these things to happen…or maybe just allowing them to happen.

There was a lot of action on the day with Christie Kerr shooting a 9-under 63 and Paula Creamer and Azahara Munoz both shooting 64s. In the case of all three, that cleaned up unremarkable 36-hole totals and moved them up the board fast; for Munoz to within 3 by the time the day was done. Ko was aware that they were coming:

Before I went out, I looked at the scores and I noticed that there were way more birdies on the front nine than the other days.  The pin positions were out and I treat them — it’s not like it’s gotten a whole lot easier, maybe everyone is getting used to the course or something.  But yeah, I personally played much better on the front nine so I was really happy with that.

But we always come back to the fact that Ko is only 16 years old. And for somebody at that age to play with the nerve and wisdom she has, continues to amaze. On the one hand, while she strolls down the fairway with her hips fully releasing with each stride and her hands loosely flopping at the end of her swinging arms, she also admits to nerves:

Obviously there’s going to be some nerves.  Of course, it’s always there any time.  But it’s great that you’ve got a one‑shot lead.

And in the next breath, displays uncommon wisdom and experience:

I’ve just got to take the positive out of it and I’m just going to play my own game, if somebody goes crazy low like shooting 10‑under, 9‑under or whatever, it’s not something I can control.  So I’m going to control to the most what I can do.

And she is also considerate. Born in Seoul, South Korea, her family immigrated to New Zealand when she was a young girl. So while she speaks flawless English with no trace of a Korean accent, she is bilingual. When she and Lee had the opportunity to converse as their round unfolded, Ko courteously opted to speak in Korean:

I said English is more comfortable for me, but we’re both, our backgrounds are Korean so probably better to speak Korean.

Among other things, they were talking about a Korean actor they both like.

She will be playing with Jessica Korda for the third day, which is just fine with Ko because Korda treats her like a little sister. Korda is tied one stroke back with Lee and because she finished before Lee, she gets to play in the last group with Ko.

Behind the two of them is like an LPGA All-Star Team:

  • Sun Young Yoo is one-stroke back at 14-under,
  • Azahara Munoz, Amy Yang, Michelle Wie, Chella Choi and So Yeon Ryu are at 13-under
  • Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel are at 12-under
  • Christie Kerr, Laura Davies, Jaye Marie Green, the runaway Q-School medalist, Lexi Thompson, Pornanong Phatlum, Lizette Salas and Inbee Park are at 11-under

And it will be a shootout. The golf course is in great shape, the greens are perfect and it’s going to 86 with light and variable winds.

Glad I’m going to be there.

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