NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Lydia Ko blasted out from in front of the steep edge of a bunker and raised her arms playfully when it dropped for par. She ended the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship one shot out of the lead, and she looked like the Ko of old.
Her comments immediately after the round spoke to what kind of year it was.
“It would be good to finish the season with a top 10. I would be pretty happy with that,” Ko said.
This from someone who reached No. 1 in the world at age 17, who won her first LPGA Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur and won every year since then. That streak ended in one of the most surprising developments of the year on the LPGA Tour.
Ko failed to win a single tournament. She finished 13th on the LPGA money list, after earning more than $2 million each of the last three seasons.
She paid a steep price for making so many changes all at once. Ko left coach David Leadbetter for Gary Gilchrist, she sacked her caddie late last year (she once went through seven caddies as a rookie) and she left Callaway for PXG.
“I think she has handled it extremely well,” said Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer and television analyst. “But I can’t imagine that she doesn’t lay her head on the pillow at night and think: `What happened? Where did I go? Was that not real?’ Part of it is just growing up. Part of it is in golf, and maybe all the way through life, I’m not sure you come to that point where you’ve grown up just enough to know things can go wrong. And then they begin to.”
Ko had three runner-up finishes this year, losing the final-round lead to Lexi Thompson in Indianapolis. She failed to register a top 10 in the traditional majors until tying for third in Evian, the major reduced to 54 holes.
Ko never thought it was that bad.
“Obviously, winning a championship is a huge deal, but sometimes it’s overrated when you haven’t won,” Ko said. “You’re still playing well, but just haven’t won. I feel like it’s been that kind of year. I think everybody has little ups and downs. To me, I think it was important to finish on the higher note, which I feel like that’s what happened.”
She tied for 16th in Naples and soon was on her way to South Korea for three weeks of fun (mainly concerts) and no golf.