Young: Ko's Class is Permanent, Form is Temporary

Ko - They couldn't keep her down for too long. (Photo: Henry Peters)
Lydia Ko’s return to contention at the Indy Women in Tech Championship in Indianapolis where she finished runner-up to Lexi Thompson, is a reminder to us all that writing off champions too early can prove to be folly of the highest order.

The New Zealander began this season as the World No. 1, a position she had held since October of 2015, but in what had been a frustrating year to date, had slipped to 8th in the world rankings heading into the inaugural event at Brickyard Crossing last week.

Ko, though, would turn around what had been a comparatively horror run, by her earlier career standards at least, reversing a series of finishes which had seen her with a best of 20th in her previous seven starts and missing the cut in two of her three starts leading into the event in Indiana.

The 20-year-old's game and back-up support team had undergone many changes in the latter half of 2016, including the dismissal of her caddie of two years and the man who had assisted her to reach World No. 1 and been with her when winning her two major championships, Jason Hamilton.

The dual major winner had also moved on from her coach of three years, David Leadbetter, in December last year and changed equipment from Callaway to PXG. There was, therefore, plenty of ammunition for those who wished to analyse her apparent demise.

Those changes were questioned at the time, especially given the huge success she had recorded with those three now missing elements in place, and as her form began to drop off as 2017 wore on, the criticism began to increase, often from keyboard warriors but also from many in the industry who were mystified by some of the decisions being made.

Professional golf is part of the entertainment industry – no more, no less – as the very word professional means the game is being played for money and people are paying to watch it either directly or indirectly.

As such, individuals are certainly entitled to their view, provided it is expressed with respect and with some level of research and understanding of the motivations behind such changes.

One thing, however, that is a common aspect of golf, sport generally and indeed in any walk of life is that it is very dangerous to write off any champion, including Ko.

Last weekend, Ko proved, if indeed she needed to, that she might yet have the final say on those who had been questioning her decision-making and just what was behind it all.

Golf is a roller coaster at the best of times. It is very difficult to maintain the sort of form required to win events and Ko’s year to date only pales in comparison with earlier years because of the brilliance she showed during those.

Jason Day began the 2017 season as the men's World No. 1 but has now slipped to 9th, his lowest ranking in more than two years. Admittedly, his struggles have been to some extent because of off-course issues but it is again a reminder how staying at the top can be nearly as difficult as getting there in the first place.

Justin Thomas was very much the flavour of the month early on the 2017 PGA Tour but, soon after, his fast start to the year began to slow with three missed cuts in his next five starts after winning twice in Hawaii.

Hideki Matsuyama took over the mantle of the next best thing when he continued on from a great finish to 2016 with a runner-up finish in Hawaii and a win in Phoenix moving him to a then career best world ranking of 5th. It would, however, take the Japanese another eight starts to record his next top ten.

Dustin Johnson would then become the focus of world attention when he won three events in succession leading into Augusta before not winning again for five months. Admittedly, his slow down in from was caused to some extent by an injury incurred off the golf course during the lead-up to the Masters but it again highlights just how difficult it can be to sustain fom over a lengthy period.

Jordan Spieth, who had himself been the subject of similar scrutiny through the middle of this year, all of a sudden became the greatest thing since sliced bread when he won The Open and Travelers Championship and finished runner-up in his last two starts.

His turn for critical analysis will come again however as the golfing gods continue to give with one hand and take with the other.

Ariya Jutanugarn, who took over from Ko as the World No. 1 after a series of finishes second only to Ko in terms of quality over the previous 18 months, has also drifted from the scene due mainly to injury and the subsequent loss of confidence.

Jutanugarn is now No. 4 in the world after failing to make the weekend in five of her last six starts.

What all of this is saying is that getting to number one is admittedly a difficult task but the pressure and scrutiny involved in staying there is unrelenting.

The jury is still out on Ko but the signs she displayed when contending for most of the week before succumbing to Thompson’s brilliance last week were encouraging for her and her many followers not only in her homeland but around the world.

This week, she gets the chance to continue that resurgence when she tees it up at the scene of her first major victory in Evian les Bains in France, but if it does not happen for her this week, it is likely to in the near future.

When it does, she will have, without even trying, answered those who perhaps felt they knew better.



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