DUNDONALD, SCOTLAND – At the moment, Lydia Ko associates Scotland with the fine ribs of beef she ate on a nightly basis whilst playing in the 2015 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links.
However, if she were to win this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at that venue and/or the following week’s Ricoh British Women’s Open at Kingsbarns, it would make for still happier associations. “It was amazing when I won the New Zealand and Canadian opens and it would be much the same were I to win in Scotland,” she said in a phone call Monday night. “There something about winning a national title which makes you more in love with a place than ever.”
Lydia admits to being frustrated that she hasn’t pinned down a title since last July’s Marathon Classic. Yet to look back to what was happening ahead of the Dundonald event of two years ago was to be reminded of the extent to which things go round in circles in this game. Then, as now, she was in the throes of what the family perceived to be a bit of a dip. (On that occasion she had just missed her first cut in 54 starts.)
Her father, Gil Hong Ko, had turned up and was teeing up balls for his daughter on the range in a bid to encourage her to keep her lower half still. Meanwhile, her coach and caddie of the moment – Sean Hogan, David Leadbetter’s right-hand man, and Jason Hamilton – were taking a bit of a back seat.
“The Korean work ethic is great,” Hogan said that day, “but there is a tendency among Koreans to think that more is better. In golf, that’s not always the case.
“When you get a child prodigy,” he expanded, “it’s a journey into the unknown, not just for the player but for his or her entire family.”
He recalled how, in 2014, the then 16-year-old Lydia had notched “one top-10 finish after another and there was no way she could have kept it up. … Golf, as we all know, is a humbling game and, however good a player might be, he or she is going to find that out at some stage.”
Lydia has found that out, even though she has still succeeded in amassing a glorious total of 19 professional titles, including two majors, in record time.
“The whole journey isn’t all smiles,” she said, “and the toughest part is probably being in the spotlight. You go through good times and bad times but there’s been lots of the good times and, overall, the experience has been awesome. I’m lucky enough to have had opportunities that other 20-year-olds wouldn’t have had.”
Then, sounding a little bit like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, she explained how, when she comes up against a tricky situation, she “whistles a happy tune.” Usually, it will be one of Ed Sheeran’s numbers and, indeed, his is the voice which blares out from her alarm clock every morning.
In referencing all the great players, young and not-so-young, on the LPGA Tour, Ko marvelled at Cristie Kerr, with whom she did a pre-U.S. Women’s Open media conference not too many days ago. She pointed, cheerfully, to how Kerr had been on the tour since 1996 “and I wasn’t born until 1997.”
Kerr, 39, is one of Ko’s “super-heroes” and Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, who is 47 and a mother of two junior school daughters, another. “I’m not a mum but I know what my mum does for me. Catriona’s doing that and she’s being a professional.
“She and Cristie are role models that inspire us all. They show everyone the strength of women.”
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Ko confirmed that she herself will not be playing at their ages. She has said from the start of her professional career that she would stop at 30 and nothing has changed. For the moment, she is not entirely sure what she will do in the next stage of her life, “but I’ll know for sure nearer the time. I might study more, I might have a family.”
All of which means that she has 10 years in which to capture the Scottish and British titles that she craves.
NEWS & NOTES
When Ko played at Dundonald Links two years ago, she was the guest of honour at what was a wholly Ladies European Tour event. This year, the championship is co-sanctioned by the LPGA and the LET, with each of the organisations supplying 50 percent of the field.
“This is brilliant news for us LET girls,” said Gemma Dryburgh, one of the up-and-coming LET players who attended Tuesday’s media day for both the men’s and women’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Opens.
So guess who Dryburgh would like to have as a playing companion? Lydia Ko.
“I think she’s incredible,” Dryburgh said. “Her length is much the same as mine and what I’d love to learn from her is how she scores without hitting it for miles.”