It is futile to ask Lydia Ko what her next decade in competitive golf might hold. The New Zealander, who has crammed an incredible amount into her 23 years, still plans to retire at 30.
“A lot of the other players I talk to say: ‘You’ll get to that age and think there is nothing better than this and keep playing,’” Ko said.
“I’d like to finish my degree in psychology and do a few more other things. But golf has been great to me so I can’t completely leave it.”
Whether or not Ko reconsiders remains to be seen. What is clear is that this golfer, who reached No 1 in the world at 17 and won two majors before encountering all manner of struggles, is on the way back. She could emphasise that by winning the Women’s Open, with a second round of 71 at Royal Troon placing her firmly in contention. Ko is one over par at the halfway point.
“I don’t know where my career is going to go,” she said. “I think at one point I was comparing myself to when I was world No 1 but physically and mentally so many things have happened that I can never be that same person as I was a few years ago. I just have to be the best person and best golfer I can be right now. As long as I am playing out there aggressively and freely and playing happy, confident golf, then I feel I can do well.”
Ko missed the cut at last year’s Women’s Open after rounds of 76 and 80. “To say I wasn’t aware of people wondering what had happened to me would be a lie,” she admitted. This appeared to be a story of continual decline, whereby a teenage phenomenon had become just another player. There have instead been traces of renaissance.
A painful double bogey at the 72nd hole cost Ko victory at the Marathon Classic in Ohio only a fortnight ago. She arrived in the UK high on confidence, with a tie for 12th in the Scottish Open a useful precursor to Troon. “The main thing is that I am playing with belief in myself,” she said. “I am playing with commitment rather than thinking about the result.”
Ko is now coached by Sean Foley, who counts Tiger Woods and Justin Rose among previous pupils. “We haven’t done a lot in the technical sense,” she explained. “I have been asking him a lot of things about trying to get some of the question marks in my head taken away and sometimes I think that’s more important than working on positions in the swing. We are trying to get to a point where I can swing freely and not to think about it.
“Sean says that I should try to dig a little hole, throw all my crap in there, then chuck some sand over it and then just walk away. That’s the position we are trying to get towards.”
Lexi Thompson’s 11-over total meant she comprehensively missed the cut. Thompson escaped sanction despite some dubious gardening work carried out around her ball on the 16th during the first round. “Following a discussion between chief referee David Rickman and the player prior to her signing her scorecard it was determined that, although the player had moved a growing natural object behind her ball, it had returned to its original position,” said a statement from the R&A. “The lie of the ball was not improved and there was no breach of Rule 8.1.” The TV footage did not appear to reflect well on Thompson.
Amy Olson, the first-round leader from the US, slumped to a disastrous second round of 81 for a six-over total. At one under par, Sweden’s Dani Holmqvist has claimed the lead.