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.