Taking Stock Of Lydia Ko's 2016 So Far

Flying Kiwis.

Flying Kiwis.

Young phenoms aren't anything new, we've all seen freakishly gifted young athletes pop up and initiate the takeover of their chosen sport. There's always plenty of hype and buzz surrounding such an athlete, however after years of following sport and seeing these young phenoms emerge, what goes down a few years after that breakout stage is what intrigues me.

I guess it's a lesson I've learned throughout my journey in following sport as I enjoy the early hype and then settle into my couch, enjoying the show as that young phenom really starts to establish their professional sporting career. Very, very early on, we all knew that Lydia Ko was a phenom - a phenom who is equally as awesome off the golf course as she is on it - which resulted in her breaking records and generally sending the golf world into a spin. 

Right now, Ko is the best female golfer on the planet and she's going about her mission of kicking on to be a once-in-a-lifetime legend/trying to avoid the fizzle of not living up to her potential. So far, so good as Ko has shown that she's got plenty of improvement in her and that we are only really looking at the tip of the iceberg.

Ko got her 2016 underway in Florida where she finished tied-3rd at the COATES Championship before returning home to win the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open. I've never really been too fussed with Ko competing on our shores, not when she could be jetting around the world, dominating the golfing world. I'm a bit of a dick though and Ko is a gem, she's the poster-girl of the modern young athlete who is all about giving back and being a genuinely wholesome person despite her star status. This saw Ko want to put on a show for her kiwi fans and I'm sure this wasn't lost on kiwi golf fans who flocked to see their star on home soil.

That was just the start of the year and what a way to start a year. Who knows if Ko will return for the NZ Women's Open each and every year, there's scheduling to consider and her general work but Ko is well aware of her standing in kiwi sport and I suspect that playing in Aotearoa is quite refreshing for Ko.

That got the grind underway for Ko and it's the grind that is the most fascinating period for any young phenom. Ko now has immense expectations on her as every golf fan knows what she's capable of and what will ensure that Ko meets those expectations are consistent results on tour. Major victories are nice and Ko now has two of those to her name, but those tournaments tend to be somewhat of a lottery as anyone can play a few good days of golf, as we've seen many times. It's a lot harder to consistently finish near the top of the leaderboard, playing a tournament each week or every few weeks and flying around the USA/world.
Ko has done exactly that as she's only done worse than tied-6th twice this year. 

ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open: 2nd (70, 70, 68, 67).

HSBC Women's Champions: Tied-15th (71, 74, 67, 69).

JTBC Founders Cup: 2nd (70, 67, 64, 65).

Kia Classic: 1st (68, 67, 67, 67).

ANA Inspiration: 1st (70, 68, 69, 69).

LOTTE Championship: Tied-23rd (71, 72, 71, 69).

Swinging Skirts Classic: Tied-6th (68, 71, 73, 75).

What I like about Ko's start to 2016 from those results is Ko's trend of finishing tournaments well, saving her best for last after starting slow. Ko's slow starts, which have seen her shoot under 70 in the first round only twice in those tournaments above, must be a work-on for Ko ... especially as Ko has 16 rounds in the 60's, the most of anyone on the LPGA Tour. Imagine if Ko was getting off to hot starts, it would be a scary sight for what is a very competitive women's field on the LPGA Tour.

In saying that, I'm pretty happy that Ko is showing that she's all good/her best in clutch moments. As long as Ko within a few shots of the leaders - if she isn't already leading - she's going to make a run in the final round and she can easily make up those few shots she gave up earlier in the event. 

And this is where we all take a moment to celebrate Lydia Ko, more than we already do because at 19-years-old (she turned 19 on Sunday), Ko has embraced the grind, the consistent expectations and life as the best female golfer on the planet. At 19, Ko is the only player with over $1 million prize-money to her name, she's ranked 1st in the Race To CME Globe Season and she's ranked 1st in the Rolex Player Of The Year standings. 

Ko is also ranked 1st in Scoring Average and Rounds Under Par, along with Putt Per GIR (greens in regulation). Greens in regulation means that the ball is on the 'green' in at least 2 fewer shots than par, so if it's a par 4, the ball is on the green in 2 shots. Ko is ranked 14th in GIR, so she's good but not amazing but where Ko shines is that she's a gun with the putter and if she's on the green, she's likely to sink it.

People love Steph Curry in the NBA because he's not a 7ft giant and he shoots jump-shots, making him highly relateable to the average joker. Ko also loves Curry and we got a taste of this when Ko paid the Golden State Warriors a visit, Ko is kinda similar to Curry in that she's not a genetic freak and is the best female golfer on the planet while not being able to hit a golf ball as far as a lot of other players on tour. Ko is ranked 115th in driving distance and 63rd in driving accuracy, which points to room for improvement while also highlighting Ko's strength in her short game.

Between now and late November, there's 24 tournaments scheduled on the LPGA Tour plus the Olympics. Whether or not Ko competes in all these tournaments, we'll have to wait and see as she hasn't been listen in the field for tomorrow's Volunteers Of America Texas Open and you'd have to assume that Ko will need to take a few tournaments off every now and then. 

That's a hectic schedule though and the grind will continue throughout the year, which presents Ko with a stern challenge to maitain her perch on top of the women's golfing landscape. The early stages of Ko's career and her 2016 has only reinforced that Ko is far from a young athlete with endless potential. Ko is a phenom and as a kiwi, she's got me loving women's golf.