It seemed Lydia Ko was one step away from winning an LPGA title in two and four months, leading by five shots with six holes to play at the Marathon LPGA Classic. But she collapsed and took double bogey on the last hole, losing the title to Danielle Kang.
Lydia Ko has been called “the youngest” and “the first player” to make some achievements. At the age of 18, Ko became the No. 1 ranked professional golfer in February 2015, which made her the youngest players of either gender to achieve the feat. Since she won her first LPGA tournament in 2012 at the age of 15, she won 14 LPGA tournaments before turning 20.
Turning 20, Ko tried to start anew, changing everything from her swings, clubs, and coach to caddy as well as shedding off eight kilograms. But things did not work out the way she wanted. She failed to win a title in 43 tournaments until she grabbed her 15th career win in April 2018. But Ko went far away from the top again. There were concerns that she might be physically and mentally exhausted and experiencing “early success, early burnout” syndrome after burying herself in golf.
Ko strived to make a comeback during LPGA’s five-month pause amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She worked out at home on an exercise bike and strengthened her lower body. As a result, she gained three kilograms of muscle. She trained more with her new coach. Ko finished first in the first three rounds at the Marathon LPGA Classic, setting herself up for a possible wire-to-wire victory.
That is why Ko’s defeat at the Marathon Classic must have been shocking for her. “It appears Ko prepared a lot but failed to handle the pressure. I hope she gets over it,” said Han Hee-won, commentator and former winner of the JLPGA and LPGA Rookie of the Year award. Fellow players, including Danielle Kang and Ko Jin-young gave Lydia words of comfort. Lydia Ko said after the tournament that she felt confident that she is heading in the right direction.
The average career of Korean female professional golfers is quite short. There have been only six champions in their 30s in 129 tournaments on the KLPGA Tour since 2016. Among them, only three are home-grown golfers, excluding Park In-bee, Jeon Mi-jeong, and Ryu So-yeon. The average age of KLPGA Tour winners is 23.1 years old. Three of the top 5 on KLPGA Tour money list this season are under the age of 20.
Those who have a long career are rare to be seen. Players easily experience injuries or slumps because they start training at such a young age. But overcoming those difficulties is never easy. To have a long career as a professional golfer, it is important to strike a balance between work and life. Having a family and friends who will hold their hand in difficult times is also important. “You should be able to accept golf as a part of life. You can remain competitive and have a long career only when you have healthy mind and body,” Park In-bee once said.
Marathon Oil Corporation, a U.S.-based oil company, is the title sponsor of the recent LPGA event where Ko collapsed. The company’s slogan established in 1930 is “Best in the Long Run.” I hope Ko will make a fresh start, recalling her first win on the LPGA Tour. Life is not a short race. She has a long way to go. Life is long not just for Lydia Ko but for all youth.
Jong-Seok Kim email@example.com