THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Lydia Ko ended 2022 on top of the golf world.
She won three times over the course of the season and claimed the season-long points race, the Vare Trophy and LPGA Player of the Year. She regained the title of top-ranked player in the world for the first time since 2017.
“This year has been an incredible year,” she said after capturing the CME Group Tour Championship. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. There has been so many exciting things in my life that’s been going on.”
Ko was also on top of the world away from the course. She got engaged over the summer and capped the year with an extravagant wedding in South Korea. The couple honeymooned shortly thereafter in New Zealand, and Ko put an exclamation mark on the trip by breaking the Tara Iti course record and sinking a hole-in-one.
Conventional wisdom would say that when things are working like they were, you shouldn’t change anything. But Ko’s never been one to run from change and decided it was time for a shake-up.
At the conclusion of 2022, Ko made two key adjustments. First she split with her swing coach, Sean Foley, citing “logistical reasons.” Then she gave her caddie, Derek Kistler, a pink slip as well. The seismic shift in the makeup of her team was a curious move — and the results since have been uneven.
She began her year with a victory at the Saudi Ladies International, but she’s finished outside the top 30 in two of three LPGA starts. Her strokes-gained stats have dropped off since her peak. And at the Chevron Championship, she’s in danger of missing the cut at a major for just the third time in her career, and for the first time since 2019. With darkness suspending play on Friday in Texas, Ko sits two shots outside the cut line.
It’s too early to know for sure, but her uneven start at the Chevron raises big-picture questions. Should we be concerned? Has Ko lost her edge? Have the bevy of changes been detrimental? The answer is unclear, and it depends on how you measure success. If you measure it in birdies and bogeys, then it’s fair to question her decisions and how they’ve impacted her play. But if you take a step back and consider the effects on Ko the person and not just Ko the player, you may start to wonder if you’re even asking the right questions.
Consider this quote from Ko earlier this year: “I think especially ever since meeting my husband, I feel like golf, yes, it is work, and when I do it want to put in my 100%. While I am playing I want to play the best golf I can. But I’ve been able to embrace it and take in the good and bad and just like make everything and the results be like a bonus rather than me trying to force something out of it. I feel very grateful about the things that have happened in my life on and off the golf course, and that’s just a good place to be able to compete as well.”
Some of that positivity could be a remnant of her time with Foley. The GOLF Top 100 Teacher was a mental coach as much as a swing coach, and their work on the mind was as important as the work on the body. But it could also be a sign of a new chapter in Ko’s career — one that, despite Ko’s youth, may be entering its final act.
Although Ko is just 25 years old, she is a chiseled veteran in the pro golf world. She’s over a decade removed from her first win and has seen the peaks and valleys of the pro game in the time since. Summiting that mountain once is tough enough, but to be expected to do it again and again is a task that few players are up for. Ko has long stated her intentions to retire when she turns 30, but with her on the brink of the LPGA Hall of Fame, she’s also hinted that could come earlier.
Ko is not one to divulge that information easily. With two points separating her from the Hall of Fame, all she needs is one major title or two regular-season wins, to make the retirement decision much more front and center.
It doesn’t appear she’ll need to answer those questions this week. A Lim Kim is a distant 11 strokes in front of Ko as the horn for darkness blows at Carlton Woods, and the cut line looms large.
No matter how the morning goes, it’s unlikely to affect Ko too much. She began the year on top of the golf world, and there she still sits. Nelly Korda could supplant her as world No. 1, but even without that accolade, Ko remains unbothered.
When you’ve accomplished as much as she has over the past 12 months — both on and off the course — not much can get you down.