Lydia Ko: Despite mom’s insult, the former prodigy is better than ever at 25

Lydia Ko will probably have to put up a new wardrobe at home in Orlando – with all the trophies she brings home from the CME Group Tour Championship: the glass globe for winning the LPGA final tournament, the silver bowl of the Vare Trophy, the “Player of the Year” awards and everything else the 25-year-old was presented with at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples. “The winner takes it all,” ABBA once warbled. But despite the record check for two million dollars and a total of 4,364,403 dollars for three victories and a total of seven top-five finishes since the Amundi Evian Championship in July, the most successful prize money season of all time didn’t work out. Lorena Ochoa was “better” by $591 in 2007.

“She’s made peace with herself”

But money, as we all know, isn’t everything. Especially when the “main prize” is standing on the edge of the 18th green: Ko’s fiancé Jun Chung. “He makes me smile, motivates and inspires me to become a better person and a better player,” says the New Zealander. “Since she met him, she has made peace with herself,” confirms her sister Sura.

Lydia Ko and Jun Chung have been a couple for almost two years, writing letters to each other for six months until the Corona pandemic allowed the first real date. Meanwhile, Chung, who lives in San Francisco, is the son of a Hyundai manager, works in the finance department of the Korean car company and first had to Google his new pen pal’s golf career, had taken up golf himself. On December 30, the two will marry in Kos and Chung’s native Seoul.

But after that, not much will change, says Chung, who likes to stay out of the camera’s focus: “She’ll keep playing. I don’t want to get involved in that. I want ‘Lyds’ to give all she can in the time she has ahead of her at this top level.” In turn, she says, “Since I’ve been with him, I want to make better use of the time I have to work on my game. To then be able to really enjoy the time off. I feel like that helps me train better and focus more.”

Three “meager” years already count as a crisis there

Time is the key word in every sense of the word for change, for the development of exceptional golfer Lydia Ko, who began as a teenage sensation, won her first professional tournament at 14, became the youngest tour winner in LPGA history at 15 years, four months and two days at the Canadian Open in August 2012, was number one in the world amateur rankings for 130 weeks and won her first professional tournament at the age of 18. Before the age of 20, she had already won two majors and the silver medal in golf’s Olympic comeback, and now has 19 LPGA victories to her name.

With such a golfing career, three years, the period between July 2016 and April 2021, with only one tournament title and a drop to 46th in the world rankings, can seem like a sporting crisis: “When you’re not playing so well, you have these weaker moments that feel so long. All too often, she has linked her existence exclusively to the numbers on the scorecard, identifying herself by her results on the golf course, Ko admits self-critically and unapologetically.

Interviewer rendered speechless

As bluntly as she spoke in June about her menstrual cramps and their effects on her back muscles (“It’s that times of the month”) after asking for medical help during the round – which literally left the interviewer from the “Golf Channel” speechless.

Equally candid, she says Jun Chung has given her “a new outlook on golf and life”: “How he perceives me doesn’t depend on my performance on the course.” And that’s precisely why “above all, I really wanted to win the BMW Ladies Championship last month in both our motherland, South Korea, with him by my side.” Mission accomplished. If Rosamunde Pilcher had written this plot, the whole world would have called it kitsch.

“You played better when you were 15”

So be it. From Ko’s point of view, the balance in her life has never been better. Without the period of the so-called form crisis, “I probably wouldn’t have the attitude I have today,” she says after her first season of multiple wins since 2016. “I feel like I matured a lot during that time.” And then isn’t fazed by a “You played better when you were 15” comment from her mother Tina: “What am I supposed to do with that information?” After nine years on the tour, you act differently, you’re simply more experienced, more familiar with the processes and conditions.

“Experience is the reason why some players play successfully on the tour for 15, 20 years. They hit their balls and know what’s going to happen. That comes naturally over time. Experience is like having a 15th club in the bag.”

Lydia Ko

On and off the court – starting with training on “more different types of grass than you can name in the same breath,” grins the new world number two behind Nelly Korda. “I used to play up liberated because I was young and clueless. Today I’m freer because I’ve learned to take things as they come and deal with them.”

Soon to be youngest Hall of Fame member

No question, the former child prodigy has grown up. And will probably soon become even the youngest member “ever” in the LPGA Hall of Fame. Until now, or since 2016, this privilege has gone to Inbee Park, who had to turn 27 to become a member. Ko, meanwhile, is only two points short.


LPGA Announces Changes to LPGA Hall of Fame Criteria

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the LPGA Hall of Fame Committee (formerly known as the Veterans Committee) announced today that the LPGA Hall of Fame has modified its entry requirements. The most significant modification includes lifting the 10-year playing requirement to enter the Hall of Fame, which makes two-time major champion Lorena Ochoa eligible for induction. Ochoa earned 37 Hall of Fame points in her eight-year playing career before retiring in 2010.

Players should be in the spotlight for as long as possible

“The Hall of Fame Committee wanted to understand why the 10-year rule was originally instituted, so we talked to the other Hall of Famers about the reasoning,” said Beth Daniel, an LPGA Hall of Famer and member of the LPGA Hall of Fame Committee. “I spoke to Carol Mann right before she passed away. Carol was president of the LPGA when the rule was set up and said it was because they needed players at that time to keep playing to keep the spotlight on the Tour. I think we have seen that the Tour is strong enough now that we don’t need that requirement, so the committee decided to do away with it. If you make the Hall of Fame in less than 10 years, more power to you. We shouldn’t keep you out of the Hall of Fame for that reason.”

Induction of the 13 LPGA female founders into the Hall of Fame as recognition

The Committee also elected to induct under the Honorary Category the remaining eight of the LPGA’s 13 Founders not already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, including Shirley Spork, who was monumental in creating what is now the LPGA Professionals organization.

“The 13 LPGA Founders were true pioneers whose collective passion, determination and foresight changed the course of history for women’s sports and laid the foundation for what is today the best women’s professional sports organization in the world. It is time to welcome them all into the LPGA Hall of Fame, recognizing the indelible impact they made on the game of golf and the doors they opened for female golfers, and female athletes more broadly,” said LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “As we honor the efforts of the Founders, we also recognize that the LPGA is in a much stronger place than it was even just a decade ago. By removing the 10-year playing requirement, we will open the Hall of Fame to players who excel at the very highest level even in shorter periods of time on the LPGA Tour. Lorena Ochoa is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the history of our game, and we could not be more honored to welcome her into the LPGA Hall of Fame.”

Ochoa expressed being amazed and “very moved”

Ochoa played on the LPGA Tour from 2003 to 2010, winning 27 LPGA Tour titles during her career. Her victories include two major championships, the 2007 AIG Women’s Open and the 2008 Chevron Championship. Along with earning Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors in 2003, Ochoa was a four-time Rolex Player of the Year (2006-2009) and four-time Vare Trophy recipient (2006-2009). During her time on Tour, Ochoa was No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for 158 weeks (April 23, 2007, to May 2, 2010), which is the record for most total and most consecutive weeks spent at No. 1. She received the news of her induction from 48-time LPGA Tour winner Nancy Lopez, a 1987 inductee into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“It was very special to receive Nancy’s call. She is a person I admire a lot,” said Ochoa, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017. “When the call came in, I was in my backyard. It started as a casual conversation, how is my family, my children. Then she said she has good news to share. My first thought was something related to my foundation. I could not guess. When she told me I was taken aback, and I was very moved, never imagined. I walked around the garden several times and laughed to myself for several minutes. I composed myself from the excitement, then drove off to pick up my children from school. After that, I called my parents, and my father was very happy and surprised also. It’s an honor to receive this recognition. It was unexpected and very special to me.”

Spork on “highest honor ever in our profession”

The following Founders will join the five additional LPGA founding Members in the LPGA Hall of Fame through the Honorary Category: Alice Bauer (born 1927, died 2002), Bettye Danoff (born 1923, died 2011), Helen Dettweiler (born 1914, died 1990), Helen Hicks (born 1911, died 1974), Opal Hill (born 1892, died 1981), Sally Sessions (born 1923, died 1966), Marilynn Smith (born 1929, died 2019), Shirley Spork (born 1927).

The only other person to be inducted through the Honorary Category is Dinah Shore (1994), who was recognized for her incredible contributions to the LPGA through her relationship with the now Chevron Championship. LPGA Founders Patty Berg, Betty Jameson, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias were previously inducted based on criteria created before the current points system, and Marlene Bauer Hagge was inducted in 2002 through the Veterans Category. Hagge and Spork are the only two living Founders today.

“Getting into the LPGA Hall of Fame is the highest honor ever in our profession, so I’ve climbed the whole ladder and gotten to the top,” said Spork on the induction. “I hope I can sit up on that ladder for a few more years and enjoy it.”

The LPGA Hall of Fame’s scoring system

Additionally, the Committee decided to allocate one Hall of Fame point for an Olympic gold medal. This will apply retroactively to 2016 gold medalist Inbee Park, who was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. Nelly Korda will receive a Hall of Fame point based on her gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, bringing her to a total of nine points in her five years on Tour.

To qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, Members of the LPGA Tour who were active in 1998 and going forward must meet a minimum point threshold of 27 points. One point is awarded for each LPGA Tour official event win, two points for each LPGA Tour major championship, one point for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned and now one point for an Olympic gold medal. Players must also have won or been awarded at least one of the following – an LPGA Tour major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors.

The LPGA Hall of Fame Committee can also induct selected individuals through the Honorary Category. The Veterans Category, with inductees nominated by the former Veterans Committee, was created specifically to recognize players Donna Caponi, Marlene Bauer Hagge and Judy Rankin. All three players were granted induction after new LPGA Tour Hall of Fame criteria was introduced in 1999 because they were retired and had met the new 27-point criteria during their playing careers. The Veterans Category has since been dissolved.

The LPGA Hall of Fame Committee includes LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, Heather Daly-Donofrio, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, Kelly Schultz, Mike Waldron, Beth Daniel, Sandra Haynie, Leta Lindley, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb.

(Text: LPGA)