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(Yonhap Interview) Ex-world No. 1 Lydia Ko in search of confidence in S. Korea

2017/10/13 09:09

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By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- This was unthinkable only a year ago, but LPGA star Lydia Ko has actually fallen on some hard times.

Granted, it's all relative. A lot of golfers would love to be in Ko's shoes, since the 20-year-old, a South Korean-born Kiwi, is still No. 9 in the world and has made nearly US$850,000 to rank 19th on the tour's money list this year.

Yet expectations were much higher for the youngster, who collected nine LPGA wins in 2015 and 2016 and opened 2017 firmly entrenched at the top of the world rankings.

Ko started the season with a new caddie, a new coach and new equipment. But with the 2017 season winding down, Ko is in danger of going winless for the first time in her already illustrious LPGA career, which began in 2014.

Lydia Ko of New Zealand tees off at the fifth hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap) Lydia Ko of New Zealand tees off at the fifth hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017, in this photo provided by the tournament organizing committee. (Yonhap)

She did have nine top-10s in 21 starts before this week's LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea, but she also missed three cuts -- this from a player who once made 53 consecutive cuts.

After a four-under 68 in the first round at LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship left her tied for ninth place on Thursday, Ko said it really comes down to confidence.

"It takes time to get used to anything or whatever changes you make," Ko told Yonhap News Agency. "I think at the end of the day, golf is so much about confidence. If you start playing well and make putts, it just builds confidence. ... Week to week, your talent doesn't improve that much drastically. When you start building confidence, you can make more putts."

   Ko had six birdies against two bogeys in a round that may well have been a microcosm of her up-and-down 2017 season.

After missing two cuts in three tournaments in July and August, Ko had some strong finishes in September. She was second at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, and then followed that up by ending in joint third place at the Evian Championship in France, the fifth and final major of the season.

Two weeks ago, Ko was in contention heading into the final round at McKayson New Zealand Women's Open before stumbling in the final round.

Ko, who lost her No. 1 ranking in June, admitted the season has been "frustrating at times."

   "I felt like there were a lot of positives but I just wasn't able to put it together," she said. "When I was struggling, I wasn't making that many birdies. When you're just scrambling, you're not going to play that great. I think confidence is a huge key for me and I am trying to stay as positive as I can be when I am out there."

  

Lydia Ko of New Zealand enters the teeing ground at the first hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap) Lydia Ko of New Zealand enters the teeing ground at the first hole in the first round of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship at Sky 72 Golf & Resort's Ocean Course in Incheon on Oct. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

And playing in South Korea at this particular juncture just may give Ko a much-needed confidence boost. Ko moved to New Zealand at an early age but still has a huge following here, as South Korean fans have embraced Ko as one of their own.

"It's nice to come to my birth country and play in front of the fans here," she said. "Every year I've come here, fans have been really supportive. I love playing in Korea."

   Ko has three more events to play in the current LPGA Asian swing, and then will wrap up her campaign at the CME Group Tour Championship in November.

Ko said she hasn't been paying attention to statistics or rankings, and she isn't about to start doing that now.

"I am just trying to build my confidence. I want to finish my season on a high point," she said. "I've just got to put myself in good positions and give myself opportunities, which I was struggling to do the last couple of months. Just finishing on a high note would be great."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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