How you view Lydia Ko's 2017 completely depends on your disposition in life and it's been fun to watch Aotearoa's mainstream media zone in negatives regarding Ko. The negativity permeates from outlets that have a natural tendency for the negative, yet this also stems form a laziness in their reporting about Ko and a lack of understanding of what is going down on the LPGA Tour.
Despite Ko not winning a tournament on the LPGA Tour, my positivity isn't irrational or without evidence, it comes with a heavy dose of context. Scratching the surface, you'd only look at Ko not winning a tournament all year or only enjoying five top-five finishes in 24 events played and you would view the many changes Ko made last summer as being a failure; as if there was a quick fix, as if the best don't concern themselves with the long-term over the short-term.
All those changes may appear as though Ko was seeking a quick fix. New swing, new coach, new clubs, new caddie and everything will be honki-dory. Her coach Gary Gilchrist thinks differently;
"I knew if Ko and her family was going to come to me and think everything was going to work out in two or three months, that wasn't going to happen".
Handling such changes and also battlin' a dip in confidence that comes when encountering a few bad results wouldn't be easy. The mere idea of dealing with change while you aren't quite full to the brim with confidence in your shots doesn't seem to be suited to a short-term solution, then add all the pressures of being Lydia Ko on top and I'm more surprised that Ko didn't fall off the wagon completely.
A slight change in perception can have you celebrating how Ko has dealt with her first real meet and greet with adversity. Ko is 20-years-old and this professional golf thing was never going to be smooth sailing all the way to her retirement, at some stage there would be an inevitable patch of adversity. The adversity has come early in her career and there's benefit to that as Ko gets a dose of reality, she can iron out any issues earlier in her career and experience the ups and downs of being a professional within a few years. Others in Ko's situation would crumble, shit would hit the fan; in adversity the real character is exposed.
Ko kept smiling, Ko kept signing autographs and sharing moments with fans. Ko kept on grinding with a positive disposition, knowing that she can get herself out of this pickle and at no stage during this pickle, has Ko wavered in presenting a positive vibe.
That in itself is incredibly inspiring and while it makes sense that Ko would inspire young female golfers, any young kiwi can find inspiration in how Ko has dealt with adversity. Any young kiwi around Aotearoa, who is going through any situation, can take something from how Ko has maintained her positivity during adversity. For young kiwis, this means a lot more than winning and losing golf tournaments.
Hence it's so easy for me to be positive about Ko.
And even then, Ko's 2017 hasn't been terrible. Sure, if you're only worried about those lazy no tournament win headlines, you might view her 2017 as some sort of failure, but in general, Ko hasn't endured a hectic drop off in her stats.
There's obviously going to be a difference in Ko's stats from 2015 and 2017, what's crucial is that the differences aren't as crazy as those 'no wins in 2017' headlines suggest. Here are Ko's key stats in 2015, 2016 and 2017...
2015: 75.44% (43rd)
2016: 70.88% (68th)
2017: 78.41% (25th)
Greens in Regulation
2015: 77% (2nd)
2016: 70.39% (31st)
2017: 72.10% (26th)
Putts per GIR
2015: 1.74 (2nd)
2016: 1.71 (1st)
2017: 1.73 (3rd)
2015: 29.38 (19th)
2016: 28.31 (1st)
2017: 28.94 (8th)
2015: 69.44 (2nd)
2016: 69.60 (2nd)
2017: 69.86 (9th)
There's a major dip if we're judging Ko by her nek-level start to her LPGA career, through all these changes and struggling with confidence, Ko has stayed relevant in these statistics. More notable is the fact that Ko has maintained a solid position, while the quality on tour has steadily increased and those who don't pay attention to the strength of the LPGA Tour won't understand how Ko's adversity has coincided with the rapid rise of the LPGA Tour.
No player has finished in the Official Prize Money top-five in all of the past three seasons and Lexi Thompson is the only player from the 2015 top-five (5th) who is there in 2017 (3rd). Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu were 1st and 2nd in Prize Money this year, neither was in the top-five last year or 2015 and in each of the last three years, there has been a different Korean player in the top-five; five Koreans have top-five Prize Money finishes in the last three years, none of them have two top-five finishes in three years.
The same goes for Race To CME Globe rankings where no player has finished in the top-five for all of the last three years. In 2015 there were three USA players, in 2016 there were none and this year Thompson (1st) was the only USA player in the top-five. Thompson is also the only player from 2015 who is still in the top-five in 2017 and Ariya Jutanugarn is the only player in the top-five this year, who was there last year.
I could cut the Official Prize Money and CME Globe points in a variety of other ways to prove my point, I'll slide on to the Rolex Rankings though; five players from the top-10 in 2015, are not in the 2017 top-10 (Hyo-Joo Kim, Amy Yang, Sei Young Kim, Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park). That my friends, is half of 2015's top-10 who are not in 2017's Rolex Rankings top-10.
Sung Hyun Park was 10th last year and stormed up to 2nd this year, while So Yeon Ryu was 9th last year and 2nd this year.
Three players from 2016's top-10 aren't in the top-10 this year (Brooke Henderson, Ha-Na Jang, Sei Young Kim).
You'd be foolish to think that the LPGA Tour has stayed the same during Ko's career. The changes are so dramatic that it's a minor miracle for such a young player like Ko to still be troopin' through the tour, while the tour undergoes major personnel changes. Changes that raise the bar of the golf being played and I'd suggest that it is a lot harder to win tournaments now, than it was when Ko started.
Not only has Ko encountered adversity, that encounter has coincided with the LPGA Tour exploding in terms of popularity, talent and personnel. This context is crucial when pondering Ko's struggles because as Ko has dipped from her lofty heights, the other players have sped past her which can give off the illusion of Ko falling faster than she actually is.
Perhaps if Ko have fallen in this manner back in 2015, she might still be near the top of all the rankings and the golfing world. In 2017 though, there are far more golfers capable of snatching the throne and while this amplifies Ko's struggles, it's wonderful for the LPGA Tour.
Chur Lydia Ko for having the self awareness to make changes.
Chur Lydia Ko for being a beacon of positivity during tough times.
Chur Lydia Ko for showing young kiwis how to deal with adversity.
Chur Lydia Ko for being one of the best 10 female golfers in the world.
Chur Lydia Ko, Aotearoa loves you.
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Peace and love 27.