Lydia Ko Is Winning on the L.P.G.A. Tour Again

LOS ANGELES — Lydia Ko of New Zealand was strolling the seaside at Santa Monica on Sunday when she stated she was bitten by a sea gull that swooped in and stole the sandwich in her hand. All Ko may do was snigger. Her return to the prime 10 in the ladies’s world golf rankings after greater than three years of absence has a lot to do along with her making peace along with her potential to manage solely a lot when she is in the sand.

Or on the fairway.

The day earlier than, Ko, a former world No. 1, had ended a three-year title drought at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, cruising to a seven-stroke victory fueled by her perception that the final result was largely out of her arms.

For Ko, who at 17 turned the youngest participant, male or feminine, to achieve No. 1 and had 14 L.P.G.A. wins earlier than she turned 20, the expectations had grow to be a burden that she may now not comfortably shoulder. So she lately determined to launch them to the winds of destiny, telling herself “the winner’s already chosen.”

“It takes a little pressure off to think that what’s meant to be is going to happen,” Ko said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, you don’t control your outcome even though you would like to.”

Ko, who turns 24 on Saturday, never went away, and yet her presence on the first page of leaderboards this year has the feel of a much beloved show returning after an interminable hiatus. After her Pro-Am on Tuesday, Ko was stopped by every player or caddie she passed as made the serpentine walk through a narrow tunnel and up a hill from the ninth hole to the practice putting green.

Everybody had congratulations and kind words for Ko, who has been one of the more popular players on the tour since she burst onto the golf scene like a blast of puppy’s breath.

In 2012, as a 15-year-old amateur, Ko became the youngest winner of an L.P.G.A. event, topping a field at the Canadian Women’s Open that included 48 of the top 50 of the year’s leading money winners. She won the event again before turning pro at 16. The L.P.G.A. waived its 18-year-old minimum age restriction to grant her membership and Ko continued her rocket ascent. She won her first event as a professional, won Rookie of the Year honors, and won and won and won.

She was so consistent, she made the cut in her first 53 L.P.G.A. events. She was in such command of her game, she had won two majors and an Olympic silver medal before her 20th birthday.

But then the unimaginable happened: Ko stopped winning. Not only did the victories dry up, but Ko struggled to advance to the weekend. In the 12 months before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the tour, Ko missed four cuts, including one by seven strokes at the Evian Championship, one of the five women’s golf majors. Ko’s struggles called to mind something JoAnne Carner, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, said in 2012 after watching Ko equal her 1969 feat of winning an L.P.G.A. event as an amateur.

She wrote the words on her yardage book, then went out and played that way, closing with a 65 to clinch her first victory in 1,084 days.

“I think that settled some of the doubts I had in myself,” Ko said Tuesday, adding, “I felt pretty calm playing. That’s where I feel like it should be. Like just because I shoot a 68 or 78, that shouldn’t dictate my mood and the way I am around the golf course.”

Ko considered the win as much a validation of her parents, and their approach, as of her and her game. “For them to get criticism I thought was unfair because they’re just doing everything they can to wish me to be happier,” she said.

Foley’s work with Ko is focused on finding that happiness, win or lose. For all her precocity — perhaps because of it — Ko had skipped over that lesson. She had to learn it the hard way.

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