Lydia Ko blows away the field and the tournament record at LPGA Lotte Championship

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Jason Kaneshiro, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·5 min read
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Apr. 18—There are times when Lydia Ko can make golf look ridiculously easy.

That fluid, seemingly effortless swing off the tee. The accuracy with her irons. Her touch on the greens.

All of it was on display throughout Ko's record-breaking week at Kapolei Golf Club on her way to winning the Lotte Championship.

But the former world No. 1 knows the game doesn't always break that way.

So after earning the 16th LPGA Tour win of her career—most of those trophies earned before she turned 20—and her first since 2018, Ko talked about dealing with the weight of her own expectations, handling the doubt that crept into her game and her appreciation for weeks such as this.

"I think everybody has ups and downs. Those moments make you the person I am right now, " Ko said after signing for a final round of 65 on Saturday, getting doused with champagne on the green and performing the winner's customary hula.

"I think when you kind of go through a phase like that you're able to learn from your mistakes in those moments. ... As long as I'm hitting it with 100 % conviction, that's it. The result, if I hit it left, right, center, that's secondary. So I think I'm trying to have a better understanding of myself and my game, and I think when I have that kind of mindset it just becomes easier on me.

"I'm out there just playing golf and I'm not trying to make it to perfection."—RELATED :—RELATED :

With low winds making Kapolei an accommodating first-time host for the event, Ko breezed through her four rounds at a tournament-record and career-best 28 under par, seven shots clear of a pack of four runners-up.

After getting her first look at the course two Fridays ago, Ko posted her lone bogey of the week in a 67 to open the tournament on Wednesday. She threatened the tournament's single-round record with a 63 on Thursday and closed with back-to-back rounds of 65 to pull away from the field.

She entered the week ranked 11th in the world coming off a second-place finish at the ANA Inspiration, where she fired a 62 in the final round two weeks ago to make a run at her third major championship.

That memory served as a reminder not to get too comfortable even as her lead swelled on Saturday.

"I was quite a ways back at ANA and put myself right into it, so I knew that could be the case (for someone else ) today, " said Ko, who entered the day one shot ahead of Nelly Korda. "So I said to myself, even seeing that I had a six-shot lead, 'You know what ? You just got to focus and do a good job with each shot. You don't want to make careless mistakes."

Whatever hope the field harbored of catching her, even as pursuers continued to attack par, effectively evaporated when Ko poured in four consecutive birdies starting at the ninth hole.

She could only shrug after she stuck her tee shot on the par-3 12th hole about 5 feet from the pin to set up a putt to get to 26 under.

Ko got up and down from below the green for a birdie on the par-5 17th and drew cheers from some of the houses next to the 18th tee box after her final drive of the day. She hit her 12th fairway of the round, reached the green in regulation for the 16th time and finished the day with her 25th and 26th putts to earn her first win since the Mediheal Championship in 2018.

Ko grew up in the spotlight even before she earned her first LPGA Tour win at the CN Canadian Women's Open in 2012, becoming the youngest winner in the tour's history as a 15-year-old amateur. She turned pro in October 2013 and within the next two years, she had won the Rookie of the Year and Rolex Player of the Year awards and became the youngest player, male or female, to reach No. 1 in the world.

She had 15 wins between 2012 and'16 with two majors in that stretch, but with wins tougher to come by the next two years, Ko found herself trying to find her confidence as she slipped in the rankings, dipping to No. 55 last July.

"I think it was harder when it's not about other people's expectations, but when you put expectations on yourself and you feel like you're not reaching it, " she said.

"And I think I was putting more pressure on myself and doubting myself, and I've been very fortunate to have a very supportive family and team and friends that have just built the confidence in me. (Swing coach ) Sean (Foley ) I feel builds that confidence in myself where at times I didn't feel like I had it. ... I think it's more I was proving it to myself than to anybody else."

Korda was nearly Ko's equal through three rounds, but her putting touch escaped her in a round of 71 that left her tied for second with Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and Leona Maguire at 21 under.

"If there is a way for my putter to be dead, ice cold, my putter was dead today, " said Korda, after her fourth top-three finish in six starts in 2021. "It just happens in golf. You have these days. And thankfully I came in with a couple birdies and I fought back to finish tied second."

The group in second also passed the previous tournament record of 20 under set by Cristie Kerr in 2017. But there was no catching Ko on this day.

"She was on her game. She's worked really hard the past couple years. ... She's been knocking on the door, " Korda said. "She played amazing (for ) four days out here, and she deserves it."