Lydia Ko eyes redemption at ‘special’ British Open

The most accomplished teenage golfer in history recently ended a run of 43 starts and almost two years without a win.

Tears of relief rolled down her cheeks as the doubts washed away and the most emotional victory of her career sunk in.

But it wasn’t a player approaching the twilight of her career. She’s been around for so long that it’s easy to forget that Lydia Ko is still just 21 years old.

It has been a tumultuous time — in which Ko has changed coaches, caddies and her equipment more often than most do in their entire career — but the Kiwi’s victory at April’s LPGA Mediheal Championship in California has given her cause to believe she can reach the top once again.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” she told CNN Sport. “Even at the end of last year, going forward to the start of this year, I feel like there were really good aspects to my game. I just wasn’t able to put it together.

“Now, just being back in the winner’s circle, it gave me the confidence to say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of good things going on.’ The big thing for me was that.”

‘Age is just a number’

It took “the best three-wood” Ko has ever hit to beat Minjee Lee in a playoff to lift the trophy, but she hasn’t reached the same heights since.

Ko, who once shot a record shot 29 consecutive rounds under par, missed the the cut for just the sixth time in her entire career in July’s Scottish Open.

But this week’s Women’s British Open going on at Royal Lytham & St. Annes offers an opportunity for redemption.

“The British Open is, I think, a really special event. A lot of history,” says Ko. “The closest I’ve ever been was at Turnberry in 2015 (T3) when Inbee Park won and got her grand slam.

“I would love to be in contention again. Those links golf courses, it’s not like you play them every day, so sometimes it takes a different part of you, a different game, like course management.

“But I think that’s the fun thing about it and I’m really looking forward to it, hopefully putting some good rounds together and getting in good positions.”

Early in her career when the media was branding her a “phenomenon,” Ko would smile and say, “age is just a number.”

No longer the same innocent rookie, she still subscribes to that view.

“With golf, you can see there are girls like me who just turned 21 or girls still in their teens — or ladies like Julie Inkster who have been on tour for many, many years,” says Ko.

“There’s Christie Kerr, who’s been on tour for longer than I’ve lived. I think experience, at the end of the day, is a bigger thing, rather than the actual number of how old you are.”

Quickfire questions with Lydia Ko

What are you into other than golf?

“I love watching Korean variety shows, Criminal Minds and I love my music.”

Any hidden talents? Do you play an instrument?

“No I don’t. My hidden talent is that I eat really fast.”

What’s your favorite meal then?

“Korean-style Vietnamese rice rolls”

Tell us something not many people know about you?

“I get scared a lot. You know, if the house is really dark, I have a hard time walking across from room to room.”

Maybe it’s all the criminal shows you’re watching on TV?

“I think so. That really doesn’t help”

First time you were starstruck on tour?

“I’d say one of the big ones was I won the US Women’s Amateur in 2012 and a couple of weeks later I went and played the Canadian Open. I was just putting and I remember Christina Kim ran over, gave me a big hug and said congratulations. That was a really cool moment for me.”

Who do you look up to most and why?

“I think my mom is somebody that I really look up to even though, from day to day, you don’t get your chance to express yourself much in that way.

“But she’s pretty much devoted her life to me and I came along a little later compared to my sister because she’s eight years older than me, but even as an amateur she drove me to the New Zealand Amateurs, would fly over here [to the States], would rent a car and even at those times, at the age of 11 or 12, we didn’t really have a GPS, so she printed out sheets with road maps and directions to go to these places that could be four to five hours away.

“So she’s been a huge inspiration and role model to me. I’d say I don’t think I could ever do that for my daughter.”

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Stacy Lewis. She called around the end of last year and said, ‘Hey, you’re playing well. Don’t worry about what happened in the past. All you can do is just focus and enjoy the moment now.’ And that was really huge for me, because she’s been in my shoes before [Lewis was world No. 1 but endured three years without a win].

“She’s actually been one of the big people that have given me advice here and there. And she’s actually a really amazing person to talk to. So that was pretty cool.”

Career highlight so far?

“My career highlights are probably my two majors, and especially the Evian Championship because it was my first one. And getting silver at the Olympics.”

Toughest moment so far?

“My toughest moment was probably the [2016] KPMB Women’s PGA Championship where I came second and lost in the playoff.”

Who would make up your dream fourball?

“I think I always change because I remember who I forgot to say last time. But Phil Mickelson is one who I always put in because he’s one of my all-time favorite players. One of my favorite actors is Tom Hardy — I’m looking forward to the new movie he’s in, “Venom.” And the other I think is … Roger Federer.”

How do you want to be remembered?

“I want to be remembered as a consistent player and one of the best players, but also for the fans, somebody that was very approachable. I hope some of the juniors can say, ‘Hey, I saw her at the golf course and really enjoyed meeting her.'”