Lydia Ko: ‘Confidence is the 15 th and most important club in the bag’

On the face of it, it’s the classic narrative of the sport prodigy who burns twice as bright and half as long. Lydia Ko was the young golfer that achieved more as a teenager than anyone in the history of the athletic. She was already winning professional tournaments at the age of 14 and became world No. 1 at 17, four years younger than Tiger Wood did in the men’s game. Even now, with 15 LPGA Tour victories and two major titles under her belt, the New Zealander is still only 21.

It’s already my fifth year on the tour and I feel like I various kinds of defined the bar very high for me at an early age … that’s why expectations went sky high.

Confidence

“It’s already my fifth year on the tour and I feel like I kind of defined the bar very high for me at an early age, ” Ko tells CNN Sport. “That’s why expectations ran sky high.” A look beyond the listing of transgressed records discloses Ko is human just like the rest of us. Even the most dominant athletes can suffer from dips in form and confidence. “I would never should be considered myself as a phenom, ” she says. “I’m not comparable to Messi and Ronaldo … I think there are so many greats and legends that have done so much more than me.”

It certainly wasn’t sheer physicality that situated her apart from every other golfer who has played the game to date during her formative years on tour. “It was more of a mental thing, ” says Ko. “When I was out there playing my best, I was out there not worrying about where the balls were going to go, or if I was going to hole certain putts. Going into tournaments I felt, ‘Hey, I can possibly win this.’ That’s why, even now, confidence is such a big thing for me, constructing belief.”

Over the course of a 25 -minute conversation, Ko returns to the word “confidence” 11 days. She compares it to “a 15 th club in the bag, ” arguing it’s “almost the most important.” As Ko puts it, “Week in week out, the amount of talent or skill doesn’t change that much, but confidence can be a huge momentum builder.” Imagine her relief at this April’s Mediheal Championship, then, when the “best” three-wood she’s ever hit set Ko up for a first LPGA Tour victory in almost two years.

When I was out there playing my best, I was out there not worrying about where the balls were going to go, or if I was going to hole certain putts.

It was there, on the shore of California’s Lake Merced, that Ko had won her first tournament as a pro, removing the 2014 LPGA Swinging Skirts trophy while celebrating her 17 th birthday. Returning to the scene a few days after her 21 st birthday, the circumstances could hardly have been more different. Where four years ago there seemed to be no limited access to her potential, this time victory aimed a wait of 43 starts without a win. Where before she was the golden girl of golf, this time her ranking had slid to No. 18 and the decisive putt was greeted by tears of relief.

“I’ve never been that emotional before, ” she told CNN Sport the following day. “When that putt fell I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ A lot of feelings, my whole squad and my family have worked really hard for this moment.”

Family

Her family have been described as suffocating influences, with Leadbetter telling ESPN that Ko’s mothers “feel like they know her best, know her moods” and Golf Digest that “they tell her when to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to practice and what to practice.”

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