Forgive me, please, for writing about Lydia Ko again, but I just find this young girl irresistible.
Her story is well documented by now, an affable teenager from New Zealand by way of Korea, with seemingly not a care in the world, gets into professional tournaments in New Zealand and Australia and begins winning them. She won back-to-back Canadian Women’s Opens as an amateur and then the new Swinging Skirts in San Francisco after turning pro and gaining LPGA status in October of 2013. And she’s only 17 years old.
She does all of this with no pretentiousness at all. That was thoroughly evident in my attempt to interview her, “Lydia Ko: I Don’t Do Anything Special,’” on the range at the Founders Cup in Phoenix:
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.
The same line of questioning came up Wednesday at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Somebody wondered what her key to success was:
“I don’t think there is like this secret. And I think people have asked me this, and kind of think there is something behind it, but I personally don’t know what is doing this. But the big thing is I’m having lots of fun. And I’m having fun on the tour this year. I wouldn’t be able to tell you this magical secret and equation behind things, yeah.”
And is this fun thing still a factor as she plays now?
“I think so. Obviously golf, it’s a sport where you can play for a really long time. And if you don’t have fun, you’re not going to play well. And I think, when you have fun, the time goes faster. I’ve played 11 years of golf now, coming up to my 12th.”
And has reality met the expectations she had for her professional career?
“It’s been really great. My first tournament was the CME Championship in November last year. And I was really nervous. And it did kind of feel a little different when I was on the first tee with my first round. But I’ve been having lots of fun. It’s already June and I’ve turned pro like eight months ago and it kind of feels like yesterday, where all that video* and everything crazy happened. I think playing good golf and playing consistently helped with my confidence. Just having so much fun and just being grateful that I can play on the tour at the age 17 is just the best thing.”
* Here’s the fun video of Lydia and her friend, a famous New Zealand rugby player, announcing that she was turning pro. It captures her spirit perfectly:
So there is this clearly upbeat, fun-loving Lydia Ko, but there is also the Lydia Ko who merely tries to remain calm:
“Yeah, when I feel pressure it’s probably like self expectation. I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else probably could. I think that’s the biggest one, where you try and push yourself, push yourself. And sometimes don’t push yourself hard enough or vice versa”
“To me, I just try and stay calm. I know I’m going to have good days and I’m also going to have average days and kind of go over that. Every failure I make I can learn from my mistake and make it into a positive and make it into a success later.”
In her media session at the Founders Cup, she confessed to being a very nervous fan of the television shows, CSI and Criminal Minds, as a way to unwind in the hotel room (even though she’s scaring herself half to death). And here she confesses to love of another luxury of hotel life, sleeping:
“Me? I just feel like a normal 17 year old. I wake up and the alarm goes off and I want to like throw my phone, because I don’t want to wake up yet. I feel like a normal teenager when I’m in the hotel, in my room. I don’t feel like the world No. 3. A lot of people — when people will tell me that and ask me stuff about it, then I go, oh, yeah, I am. But, me, I just feel like a normal teenager and think that’s what makes it more fun and exciting. I don’t have to think about everything else. All I need to think about is just hitting the white ball into the hole.”
And another thing about teenage girls is that they freak out over famous handsome professional golfers:
“I got out there inside the ropes on Sunday and got to watch some pretty intense stuff. It’s my first tournament watching a PGA tour event. So it was really exciting just to see these guys that I saw on TV just walk by. Some of them knew my name, and I was totally freaked out.”
And it wasn’t limited to just one guy:
“No, they were all like, wow. After I met one, I kind of had a mental breakdown, it wasn’t functioning for a while. But it was just really cool. I probably won’t be able to see the PGA tour players for a long time again. Hopefully, this kind of thing might happen more often, I don’t know. I was just super excited that some of them knew who I was. I really wanted to meet Gary Woodland. He’s part of Callaway now, and I was watching on Sunday, on the 17th hole and he came up to me and another player, Sue Kim, and gave us a handshake. That was pretty cool to kind of do it during his round.”
But some a little more than others:
“Just every single player. Just being there. I got to hug Sergio Garcia. When do I ever get to do that? (Laughter). I don’t. So every player I looked and said, oh, my God, there’s Keegan Bradley. Oh, my God, there’s Rory McIlroy right there. I’m never going to be that close to them, ever. So it was awesome. And the next time I do get to see them, I’ll be like this, again, have a mental breakdown.”
Most of us who are serious about the game discover over time that we play better when we don’t take the game so seriously. And so it is oh, so nice, to have a young charmer like Lydia Ko around as a constant reminder of that simple principle.