Lydia Ko summed up her opening round Thursday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia as “not bad but not fantastic” after she made birdie at the last to post an even-par 71.
That sums up where Ko is at as she heads down the home stretch with Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, CME Globe and money title honors all at stake.
Ko has been so “fantastic” since hitting the tour as a 15-year-old phenom, we aren’t used to any sort of lingering run of ordinary from her, even this short spell at season’s end.
No matter how this year finishes, Ko has had a great year. She has won five times around the world, four of them LPGA titles, one of those a major, but she has been less than her best since winning that silver medal at the Olympics in August. She tied for 51st at the KEB HanaBank Championship last week, her worst finish this year. She tied for 20th at the Fubon Taiwan Championship the week before and tied for 43rd at the Evian Championship before that.
Ko is cumulatively 6 over par over her last 11 rounds.
Thrown into this was some tumult in the news that she fired her caddie of two years, Jason Hamilton, after the final round of the KEB HanaBank last week. They won 10 LPGA titles together, two of them majors. There has also been speculation she’s making a swing change.
Ko’s coaches say we’re likely seeing some fatigue in Ko, as well as some natural emotional challenges, given how close Ko and Hamilton were as a team before the break, and given all the extra demands that are thrust on the Rolex world No. 1.
“Lydia has put herself in a position for absolutely another great year,” said Sean Hogan, David Leadbetter’s longtime associate, who teams with Leadbetter to coach Ko. “She has already achieved so much this year, in terms of wins, another major, all the top 10s and the Olympic silver medal. We are very happy where she is at.
“Yeah, there’s probably been a little lull here, but we have gotten sort of spoiled over the last three seasons. It may be a point where there’s a bit of fatigue from a long season, a lot of boxes checked off of goals she has already achieved and maybe a bit of stress from letting the caddie go.”
Hogan said Ko is not working through any swing changes. They’re happy with the swing they’ve built and the work now is just massaging the changes they’ve made since taking her on three years ago. They strengthened Ko’s grip when she joined them, fixed her club’s shut face at the top and turned her fade into a draw, something the family requested when they brought Ko to them.
“We don’t have any major swing agenda going on now,” Hogan said. “I would say we’re always trying to polish this swing that’s worked so well.
“Maybe we’re seeing a little different form, but it’s been a long season and summer without much of a break. I think there has been the combination of the workload and the bit of stress letting go of the caddie, all factoring into a little fatigue in the swing efficiency.”
Hogan spent a week with Ko at the KEB HanaBank Championship.
“She is handling it all well,” Hogan said.
Ko trails Ariya Jutanugarn in Rolex Player of the Year points, Race to the CME Globe points and in money winnings, but they’re tight races. After this week, Ko will play two of the remaining three LPGA events, the Toto Japan Classic and the CME Group Tour Championship.
Hogan said the formula now is trying to make sure Ko is rested while continuing to polish elements of her swing.
“We’re reiterating what’s been so successful while trying to give her a bit of confidence through these last three events,” Hogan said.