Lydia Ko carded a 3-over par 76 — the worst round of her young professional career — Friday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Finishing the first 36 holes of the Championship at 2-over par, Ko missed her first cut in 53 events.
Ko’s scorecards tell the tale. She couldn’t find the fairways off the tee, she couldn’t get to the greens in time to save her pars, and where you might expect to see some 2nd round improvement there was disaster.
Lydia Ko’s 1st & 2nd Round scorecards
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What’s happened to the girl with the golden swing, the girl Kiwi coach Guy Wilson shaped from raw talent into a disciplined athlete?
If this was any player other than Lydia Ko, one missed cut in 53 pro event starts wouldn’t make a ripple in my perceptual pond, but Lydia Ko isn’t just any player and this missed cut feels different to me.
There were the wild shots early in the season, beginning with the 17th hole at the Coates Golf Championship. There was that uncharacteristic T51st finish at the ANA Inspiration in April. That was the week the fans and the press were counting Ko’s consecutive sub-par rounds as she edged up to Annika Sorenstam’s record, but then couldn’t deliver the shots she needed.
I thought at the time that while Ko certainly had the ability to better Sorenstam’s record the pressure to do so must have been an extraordinary mental burden for such a young athlete. Even the inscrutable, dignified, mature-beyond-her-years Lydia Ko has mental limits. She tied Sorenstam’s record of 29 sub-par rounds with a 71 in the first round at Rancho Mirage and then it was over. She carded a 73, 74, 73 and finished the year’s first major well down the board. It was almost as though the hype that had surrounded her reaching that 29th round drained all her mental energy.
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To be sure, Ko bounced right back into form at the end of April and notched the win at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, holding on to that title for a second year.
But then came Texas and Virginia, more missed shots and two lackluster finishes, a T41 at the Volunteers of America North Texas LPGA Shootout and a T16 finish at the Kingsmill Championship.
Lydia Ko’s not a high energy player, not the way Cristie Kerr and Christina Kim are high energy players. But she’s a rock-steady player who’s been consistent in her delivery of deadly-accurate drives, approach shots, and putts. She began her pro career 18 months ago with a drive that consistently found the short grass and a short game that couldn’t be equaled. Until last April.
She’s also a teenager who has seemed properly carefree as she glided down one fairway after another, munching on her snacks, chatting with her caddie and her playing partners, laughing at her own bad shots. Until last April.
Or did Ko’s problems begin somewhere before last April? Despite David Leadbetter’s initial assurance that he had no intention of tinkering with that swing Lydia Ko had perfected under Guy Wilson’s tutelage, there’s talk that he’s guiding Ko toward a shift from her consistently predictable fade to a draw. I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to golf swings, but I do know what happens to my game when I start making changes to my swing.
Ko’s been struggling with wild swings and missed shots all season, but her problems seem to be getting worse as the season progresses.
Lydia Ko’s still among the best of the best. She’s been sitting at the top of the Rolex Rankings for 19 weeks (although Inbee Park’s getting close to reclaiming the top spot), and she’s been inside the top-5 in the rankings for the whole of her young pro career. She’s at the top of the Tour’s 2015 official money list, she’s leading in Race to the CME Globe points and in Rolex Player of the Year points.
But the signs of an unraveling swing are troublesome, and Ko’s inconsistency seems to be worsening as the season progresses. This is a wait and watch situation. One missed cut doesn’t signal anything but one missed cut, unless it’s part of a longer-range trend. Let’s hope that’s not the case.