Adam Stanley, Olympic Golf
Lydia Ko has the opportunity this summer in Paris to do something no one else can do – complete an Olympic medal collection if she were to win gold.
Ko, who won for the 20th time on the LPGA Tour Sunday at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, will head to Le Golf National after winning a silver medal in Rio and the bronze in Tokyo.
“In my perfect fairy tale story, I would win gold and have the collection of three different medals,” Ko said after her win at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. “Sometimes it's literally a fairy tale, and the Olympics is the best of the best of each country, the best athletes there, and to be able to represent your country is just a win itself.”
Ko’s win at the 2024 LPGA Tour season opener came at her home course – in fact, her mom drove Ko over from her home in their golf cart – and was her first win in over a year. Ko was the Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour in 2022 but struggled mightily in 2023, falling all the way to 100th in the LPGA’s season-long Race to CME Globe standings. She said Sunday – with a laugh, now – that she learned last year she’s a crier. She remembered the second round at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship where she took four chips to get a ball on the green and she just couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t score consistently anymore.
“I think I came back to the room and I was like, ‘I have no idea why I can't back up a good round after another one,’” Ko said. “I think then I was honestly like crying in my little room at Staybridge Suites thinking, ‘Hey, what's going to be at the end of this tunnel.’”
Ko would go on to win the Grant Thornton Invitational in December, the first co-sanctioned event between the LPGA and PGA Tour since 1999, with her partner Jason Day. That, she said, was important for her momentum coming into this year.
She remembered a moment earlier in the season, at the beginning of her relationship with her new caddie, where she had to apologize to him after missing a cut. She didn’t want to start the new relationship with bad momentum.
“He was like, ‘Hey, this is just going to make the winning sweeter.’ I think that’s so true,” Ko said.
Ko, who is now just one point away from earning her way into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, came into the 2016 Olympics as the No.1-ranked golfer in the world and admitted there was a lot of “internal pressure” that week. Still, she won silver. Five years later, in Tokyo, she had a different mindset.
“I was like, ‘I already have a medal, so what have I got to lose?’ With that mindset I was able to play better and more aggressively and have a really good final round and won a bronze medal,” Ko said.
Ko called returning to the Olympics to try to round out her medal collection as one of her biggest goals for 2024. She called the two weeks where she represented New Zealand in both Rio and Tokyo as some of “the best weeks” of her life.
The interesting thing about the Olympics, Ko said, is that she talks about her second and third-place finishes almost as excitedly about any of her victories on the LPGA Tour.
“I think second place and third place (on the LPGA Tour), ‘Oh it was a good week,’ but you don’t talk about it. It’s pretty cool when you get a medal for coming second and third,” Ko said. “That’s the great thing about the Olympics. Every player that’s there, every Olympian that’s there has something to celebrate.”
Ko knows Le Golf National is going to play very different than the previous two Olympic venues and the level of golf needed to win a medal is going to be high.
But Ko, after returning to the winner’s circle Sunday for the first time in over a year, has started her year in the best way possible – and now she hopes this momentum will continue through the summer, and her fairy tale will come true.