A month on from our last look at Lydia Ko's LPGA Tour journey and we've dipped back into a downwards trend. Two 10T finishes and a 25T had Ko enjoying a bit of a plateau, she had put a halt to the downwards trend and was showing signs of improvement in key stats, especially her putting. Since the Arkansas Championship in mid-June though, Ko has competed in two LPGA Tour majors and finished 59T and 33T.
If we look at Ko's career in terms of Ko playing 18-holes, Ko stormed through the first hole as she burst on to the scene and dominated the golfing world. I'd go with Ko shooting an eagle on that first hole or first stage of her career. The second hole saw Ko hit a beautiful shot off the tee, smack bang in the middle of the fairway as she continued to roll through slick performances on tour. She chipped on to the green in glorious fashion and then two-putted, showing signs of some struggles but she still managed to get par.
Ko is currently on the third (of 18 holes). She hit her tee shot into the trees, then from the trees Ko found the bunker and Ko is currently stuck in that bunker, stuck in one of those comedic moments where a battlin' golfer can't get the damn ball out of the bunker.
Finishing 59T at the Women's PGA Championship and 33T at the US Women's Open was Ko trying to get out of this bunker. Of the eight rounds Ko played across those two majors, five of them were over-par with her best effort coming in the opening round of the US Women's Open where she shot 68 (-4); Ko then shot three rounds over 70.
As I like to do, let's check in with those key stats to see where Ko is ranked and how she is tracking...
Birdies: 36th (33rd last time)
Rounds Under Par: 19th (14th)
Scoring Average: 16th (9th)
Putting Average: 5th (13th)
Putts Per Greens In Regulation: 3rd (5th)
Despite those poor results in recent majors, Ko's putting stats continue to improve. Over the last three times I've wrote about Ko, she's dropped her putting average from 28th to 5th and her putts-per-GIR is down 20th to 3rd. This isn't exactly sending warning signs high into the LPGA atmosphere and Ko's driving stats are pretty much the same from last year, if not better; Ko's gone from 68th in driving accuracy to 42nd and 122nd in driving distance to 126th (we can kinda ignore Ko's driving distance as she's never really been ranked highly in that).
Ko has dropped considerably in 'Greens In Regulation'. She's gone from 31st in 2016 to 55th this year which could offer insight into her struggles. GIR is a stat that gauges how many shots it takes to get on to a green and 'regulation' is two shots fewer than par. Ko isn't getting to the greens as efficiently as she has done previously, even though her driving accuracy has improved. Those irons huh?
Ko's numbers are only terrible compared to the ridiculous golf Ko was playing during her first few years on tour. Seeing so many new names and faces joining the golfers I've become familiar to in following Ko, along with Ko's decent stats not quite reflecting her results, had me wondering about the strength of the LPGA Tour. It feels as though the LPGA Tour has burst a bubble in the past year or so, going up a level in terms of just how many athletes are playing at a high level; Ko has got worse for sure, but maybe this is more a case of the rest of the Tour really rising to the level Ko was playing at?
Take Ko's GIR for example: Ko was 31st in 2016 with 70.4% and 2nd in 2015 with 77%.
Ko is currently 55th in GIR with 69.8%, which would have had her ranked 37th in 2015 and 41st in 2016.
The best LPGA's scoring average has dropped from 69.415 in 2015 to 69.102 in 2017. In 2015 Ko was one of three golfers with a scoring average under 70 (Ko was 2nd), now in 2017, 17 players average under 70. Ko is tied with Michelle Wie at 16th in scoring average and the next ranked player is Cristie Kerr who is bang on averaging 70.
Ko's current scoring average would have had her ranked 4th in 2015, she is currently averaging 69.894 and averaged 69.441 in 2015.
In 2015, Ko was one of four players (of the top-50) to average over 4 birdies per-round (3rd with 4.2043). In 2017 though, 15 of the top-50 birdie-getters average over 4 birdies per-round.
To show the influx of quality players to the LPGA Tour in the past two years, comparing the Race To CME Globe Season points makes for interesting viewing. Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Brooke Henderson, In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park now feature in the top-10, while Ko, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis and Ha Na Jang have dropped out of the top-10 from that 2015 group.
Take Thailand's Jutanugarn sisters for example, completely ignoring a wave of South Korean players who now dominate the LGPA. Moriya has jumped from 66th in CME Points from 2015, to 9th in 2017 while Ariya has gone from 34th in 2015 to 3rd in 2017.
Ko's struggles have unfortunately coincided with the exciiting rise of the LPGA Tour and you could suggest that Ko is now feeling the effects of her dominance as the rest of the LPGA Tour has had to get a lot better and there's a higher number of quality players. This is why I'm not too downbuzz about Ko's woes and I'm just fascinated by this journey, I'm fascinated by the future prospects of Ko.
Nothing about Lydia Ko suggests that she's going to continue to trend downwards and fall off the LPGA map, becoming a pub-quiz question. Everything about Lydia Ko suggests that she'll find a way to get back to the top and every tournament, every hole is an opportunity to do so and you already know that the rest of the LPGA Tour knows that Ko is lurking. Only that Ko's lurking in that bunker on the third hole of her career-course, still trying to get out.
Next up for Ko is the Marathon Classic this weekend and this is a tournament that Ko won in 2014 and 2016. That delivers a fabulous opportunity for Ko to get out of that pesky bunker, putt in and move on to the next hole of her career-course.
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