In yet another improbable performance by the world’s teenager with the oldest soul, Lydia Ko reeled off another 68 to win the CME Group Tour Championship. And with Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park falling off their sharpest form, she also won the Race to the CME Globe and the $1 million that came with it. Together with her $500,000 first-place share of the tournament purse, it was the largest haul in women’s golf history.
I intentionally used the word, “haul,” because it is more befitting of the massive accomplishment this was for someone just 17 years old. Massive.
On the one hand, we had the best players in the world ardently striving to go ever lower in hopes of a victory and cash haul. And on the other hand, we had Lydia and her caddie, Jason Hamilton, strolling down the fairways with smiles on their faces and filled with good cheer. The contrast could not have been more apparent.
As I have reported before, when I approached her on the range at the Founders Cup in Phoenix to find out how she manages this kind of mental stability, this elusive aplomb, she looked at me quizzically. She had no idea what I was talking about, even said that she didn’t think she could help me. And then, in a sincere effort to be helpful, said that she just tries to have fun.
At some point, we’re all going to have to just accept that this is really how she manages these historical feats, because she consistently says the exact same thing every time it comes up.
This time it was a question about a 15-year-old local amateur girl and what advice she would offer her. And in another thing to love about Lydia, she began her answer, not atypically, with great humility. How does a 17-year-old have such wisdom? Where does this come from?
“I’m embarrassed to give advice to a girl that’s only two years younger than me.”
“One of the things I try and do is just have fun. Doesn’t matter if I’m shooting a 70 or 75 or 65, I try and stay in the moment and really have fun and just enjoy every tournament.”
“You really never know what’s going to happen at the end of that Sunday. I always say, ‘Just have fun.’ That’s the most important thing. That’s a big key, I think, to having a long career.”
It also came up in her response to a question about — given the stupendous year it turned into — what kind of season she would have been satisfied with at the beginning of the year?
“I think just playing consistent. You know, top 10s are really tough. You have to be in good form to be in that position, too.”
“So I just said, ‘Okay, go out there and have fun, have a couple Top 10s, and just really learn more about the tour and what it’s like to play on the tour full time.'”
“That was just one of my biggest goals. To come off with three wins [and the CME Globe and Rookie of the Year], it’s been an amazing year.”
It’s probably more like, it’s been an astonishing year. When you have a young girl playing golf in a woman’s world — just think about the stoic demeanor of all the great players through time — with absolutely not one flinch, that’s astonishing.
To win today, she had to get through four playoff holes, two with Julieta Granada and all of them with Carlota Ciganda. And all of them with Ciganda bombing it 30 yards by her off the tee. Didn’t bother Lydia; she just kept lobbing her 4-hybred onto the green and giving herself a putt at it.
Ciganda, on the other hand, (and not to pick on her or find fault) seemed to have this sort of stony worry on her face. And ultimately, her length did her in. She pulled her last approach shot into the water trying to hit it too hard (probably just adding a little too much help with her body). It was catastrophic:
“I just pull it. I wasn’t very comfortable with the wind. I knew it was the club, but I just hit too hard and just a little bit too much left and just to the water. Just missed one shot and not the right way.”
Ciganda also missed about a 6-footer to win the third playoff hole:
“I think I just pushed it a little bit. I was right edge and still a little bit more, so…”
Again, not to make Ciganda wrong, but merely to illustrate the contrast between a happy-go-lucky kid and one of the most talented players in the game. These catastrophes happen all the time, but less so, it seems, with Lydia. She’s yet to miss a cut in her two years playing on the LPGA Tour.
So who knows what we can expect from her as the years unfurl before her. She left her long-time New Zealand coach for Sean Hogan and David Leadbetter, so there presumably could be some risk that she would run afoul of cumbersome swing changes. But as reported in stuff.co.nz, Leadbetter said they were going to be very careful with the “Mona Lisa” of golf:
“But Leadbetter said the new coaching regime would not radically change Ko’s style. He likened her to the ‘Mona Lisa… you don’t need to repaint that.”’
“Suggestions so far had been ‘very cosmetic,’ including stepping a little closer to the ball and slight adjustments to her grip and a minor correction to a closed club face.”
“He described Ko, who ‘caught on very quickly’ as ‘a treasure from your part of the world’ who would be ‘treated with kid gloves.'”
So with that risk seemingly under control, all there is for us to do is sit back and enjoy one of the greatest talents in the game…and try to find new superlatives to describe her.