Following Lydia Ko was once super-duper fun thanks to her dominance on the LPGA Tour. If Ko wasn't winning tournaments, she rarely dipped outside the top-10 and her ability to play well when she wasn't at her best ensured that Ko was a factor in every Tour event. Times have changed though and on the back of a reasonably mediocre finish to last year's Tour, Ko has started this year in similar fashion.
Different ends of the spectrum, same level of intrigue and we kinda knew that Ko would struggle to maintain such dominance on the Tour so this is the expected blip. Perhaps we just didn't expect it to be as big a blip as this, nor did we expect Ko to have such an air of weirdness around her. I love to chuck Ko and Steven Adam in the same legendary kiwi category because they are simple, beautiful, kiwis who are good at their chosen sport. Adams makes everyone laugh, he plays his supporting role to perfection and offers up endless funk for us but more importantly for the tame American media.
Ko is the same as she is popular on Tour, represents Aotearoa to the maximum and is just lovely. Adams and Ko are just lovely kiwis aren't they? Ko will always be lovely, however her recent struggles have come with questions regarding the influence of her parents and the desire to undertake such drastic change during the off-season. As we all know; Ko changed her coach, caddy and gear sponsor, all of which has only resulted in a continuation of last season's struggles.
You'll never catch me describing Ko (or Adams) as a diva, yet when you hear non-bias golf folk talk about Ko, that diva-ish vibe does infiltrate their yarn. On the surface it could look that way as our young phenom opted for change when things got tough.
The last six tournaments of 2016; 40T, 20T, 51T, 12T, 43T and 10T.
The first six tournaments of 2017; 46T, 8T, 9T, 8T, Cut, 11T.
Positive vibes have me highlighting that Ko has managed to get three top-10 in six starts this year, however the reality is that Ko currently sucks by her own lofty standards.
Those poor results are reflected in Ko's stats thus far as she's only among the Tour's best in 'Driving Accuracy' where she's ranked 13th. The following could be viewed as a Lydia Ko golfing horror script, so if you don't like yucky golf stats skip this:
Ko is 33rd in birdies (80).
Ko is 31st in rounds under par (16 of 22).
Ko is 23rd in scoring average (70.09).
Ko is 87th in putting average (29.77).
Ko is 55th in putts per Greens In Regulation (1.77).
Let's compare these to 2016, which saw Ko dominate apart from that last quarter of the season:
Ko was 7th in birdies (382).
Ko was 2nd in rounds under par (69 of 94).
Ko was 2nd in scoring average (69.59).
Ko was 1st in putting average (28.31).
Ko was 1st in putts per Greens In Regulation (1.71).
Needless to say that Ko has somewhat fallen off the wagon and she didn't need to fall too far to allow the competitive LPGA Tour field to catch up. Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand is the name that most kiwis will recognise as she's Ko's major competitor, however Jutanugarn isn't even in the top-five for scoring average. Jutanugarn is 2nd in the Race To CME Globe as well as top-10 finishes, but a cluster of Korean women led by So Yeon Ryu (along with In Gee Chun, Mirim Lee and Inbee Park) are dominating. Throw in Lexi Thompson from USA who is hovering around that top group as well.
If you think that Ko just has to show up to win or get a top-10 finish, you're silly. The LPGA Tour is stacked with talent and Ko only has to be off her game slightly to relinquish the power she had over the Tour. Right now Ko is off her game - I'd say slightly while overs might say emphatically - and the Tour has swallowed Ko up.
As you'd expect, Ko is positive about the changes she made and this is where the fun gets amplified because as the season goes on, you'd expect Ko to suss things out and get back to consistently earning top-five finishes. There are two more tournaments in April with the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii on April 12 followed by the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in Texas on April 27, so we'll be keeping a close eye on how Ko performs.
Keep in mind that Ko only played 24 tournaments last year (56th) and that was all gravy while Ko was on top of the golfing world; when you're the best you can pick and chose. Now Ko is in the chasing pack and I'd expect her to play as many tournaments as possible, especially as she hasn't started this year on a great note.
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