I flagged down Lydia Ko coming off the 18th green at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif. She was finishing up a practice round ahead of the JTBC Classic. We found a patch of shade, grabbed a seat and settled in for the chat below.
Dylan Dethier: What about golf has you excited right now? What motivates you to get out and practice?
Lydia Ko: I feel like the level of play has just gotten higher and higher, so it’s that much harder to put yourself in contention and to win. That’s why the year that Jin Young [Ko] and Nelly [Korda] had last year was so impressive. Everyone was like, “Oh, they make it look so easy,” but I know it’s not. Watching them and playing with them was super motivating. Plus, it’s golf: There’s no perfect round and you can always get better, little by little.
DD: You’re No. 3 in the world. Jin Young and Nelly are No. 1 and No. 2. Are you motivated by trying to catch them?
LK: Not really. I just set my goals and focus on those. Right now, that’s increasing both my fairways hit percentage and greens in regulation. When those numbers are better, my results are better. That’s not to say that if I’m not hitting it perfectly, I won’t be able to score — in golf, you can score in so many different ways. But it’s my way to try to become more consistent. And unless I hit 100 percent of both, there’s room to get better.
DD: Do you set goals that aren’t related to golf?
LK: Not really — apart from trying to stay happy and have good energy on and off the golf course. Even though we try and separate golf from the rest of life, they always affect one another. So I’m trying to make sure there’s a good balance so that stress in one area doesn’t affect the other.
DD: Are there specific strategies you’ve found helpful in balancing golf and life?
LK: It’s simple stuff. Spending time with family, spending time with my boyfriend, things like that. When I’m practicing, I think it’s important to focus on what I’m doing and make sure that my training aligns with my goals. Then, when I’m off, I’m totally not worrying about golf, and I can have this freedom to do everything else. When I’m off, I like hiking, working out. I try to stay pretty active. And Netflix is always a good option.
DD: You’re 24, but when readers see this you’ll have turned 25, which is around the age that some women are just debuting on the LPGA Tour. You played in your first LPGA event 10 years ago. How do you make sense of that?
LK: Well, I sometimes don’t feel 24. I’m starting to take longer to warm up. Other players are like, “Oh, you’re still 24, you can’t say that!” But golf is a very repetitive motion, like plenty of sports. I’m realizing how important some of that stuff is: warming up and taking care of your body. And your mind.
DD: Your early career accomplishments are remarkable. You won your first pro event at 14, first LPGA event at 15, reached World No. 1 at 17. But last year, after you won for the first time in three years, at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii, you said you didn ‘ t want people to say that you were “back.” Why is that?
LK: A lot of things have changed since I was No. 1. A lot of experiences have changed my perspective, the way I look at things. But mostly it’s because I’m not trying to be who I was. I’m just striving to be the best person and best player I can be right now, so I don’t want to compare myself to my past.
DD: For most pros it would be normal to go a few years without winning. But you had won i know often. What was the most challenging part of that period?
LK: I think it was in 2020, after we came back from a few months off due to Covid. I put myself in contention more, which helped me bring my confidence back. But, at the same time, when you contend and you don’t win, you think, like, Hey, will it ever happen again? I think winning in Hawaii was so important because I proved to myself and to everybody else that I can still make it happen in that position.
DD: Was that the most validating moment of your last few years on tour?
LK: I think so. That was a big turnaround for me. I mean, I missed the cut the week after that. [Laughs] So it might not have looked like it. But it was proof to me and a sense of relief as well. It gave me the confidence to say, “Hey, I’m doing the right things, and I just have to keep working at it.” And sometimes it won’t work, but sometimes it’s going to be great.
DD: Is there advice you’d give to a young phenom who’s 14 or 15, the age you were when you burst onto the scene? Anything that you wish you knew at the time?
LK: Sometimes things are going to feel very natural, very easy. Things just come without you trying to force anything. And then some days you can try everything and none of it works. I think you just have to be really patient and just believe in the process, and your training will speak for itself. But that training won’t necessarily translate to the week right after you do it. It’s all accumulated to a moment later. Be patient. That’s one thing.
DD: Do you get nostalgic? Is there anything that you miss from playing golf as a kid or the early days of being on tour?
LK: [Pauses] You know, to be honest, I love my life right now. My sister was just saying that I look really happy. I feel that way. I feel like this may be the happiest point of my life. Some days I know I don’t have a good day on the golf course, but I come back and my family and friends are there to support me. So, yeah, I’m sure there are things that I miss about, oh, maybe being a little carefree. But my “give as—” level is pretty low anyway, so it’s not like I’m that affected.
When I was a kid, I would wish I could go on school camps and, like, have sleepovers with my friends. But I always had to go practice. Now? I get more time off. The cool thing about our schedule is that I can pick and choose whatever I want to play and, like, plan my weeks off. It’s great. I’m on when I’m on, I’m off when I’m off. I know, yeah. I’m happy right now.