Jordan Spieth’s Open Championship victory on Sunday showed he is back to the form that earned him the 2015 male player of the year award from the Golf Writers Association of America and now the person who picked up the female equivalent at the same time is hoping to use a double-header in Scotland to do likewise.
After being world No 1 for 84 consecutive weeks, Lydia Ko has slipped to fourth in the rankings after changing her clubs, coach and caddie since the end of last season and has now gone a full 12 months since chalking up her 14th LPGA triumph, a haul that includes two majors.
According to the 20-year-old Kiwi, though, it’s just a matter of her trying to piece together a “puzzle” as she bids to get back to winning ways and seeing Spieth being rewarded with a Claret Jug for the patience he’s shown since coming close to claiming that two years ago on the back of Masters and US Open wins has certainly given Ko belief heading into both the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
“Because of that (2015) season where he won two majors and got so close in the other two (finishing fourth in the Open Championship and second in the USPGA Championship), I think he set the bar so high up that when you’re still playing good but not as good, you feel like you’re not playing as good, and I think that’s how people kind of perceive it,” said Ko, speaking on a wild and wet morning at Dundonald Links during a fascinating press conference ahead of the first of those events.
“But, when I watch him play on the PGA Tour, I still feel like he’s that same awesome player that he was in that season and the season after. Especially on that back nine last week, where he was just grinding, he made some of the impossible possible. I think that just shows what kind of a class player he is. I’m pretty sure he stayed patient and he kind of blocked out what everybody was saying, because I think he knew that it was still the same him.” Is Ko saying the same thing to herself as she experiences the first lull in a career that has also seen her break record after record? “It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do,” she added. “I know that you just have to keep your head up high and just focus on what’s going on right now and what I need to work on, rather than think about what has happened in the past.
“I think what’s really important going forward is I’ve just got to look at what’s going on at this moment and what I need to prove and what I need to improve. I’ve obviously been fortunate to be able to play some really good golf, and I think that will be a huge experience factor and I think being patient is going to be the key for me until hopefully that next win. I know we are all working hard to be the one holding the trophy at the end of the week. It’s not like I’m a special case where, hey, ‘I’m the special one’. We’re all trying to be patient and confident in our game.”
Ko is playing in her second Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, having tied for fourth behind Australian winner Rebecca Artis two years ago, and is looking forward to trying to improve on that performance in an event that has seen its field strengthened substantially – the prize fund has also trebled to £1.2 million – due to it now being on the LPGA schedule before turning her attention to next week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns.
“I had my best finish in the Women’s British Open (joint-third behind Inbee Park at Turnberry) after playing in this tournament two years ago,” recalled Ko, whose title rivals on the Ayrshire coast over the next four days include world No 1 So Yeon Ryu and second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn, as well as a strong American contingent headed by Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer.
“While this is a great championship, too, it’s a great lead-up to the British Open. It’s a great learning curve, especially if the winds get strong. It will definitely be helpful in not only club selection but how the ball is affected in the air. It’s a nice experience for the people that are playing this week and next week. I think it’s great for the fans, too, as it’s a cool stretch of events that doesn’t happen very often.”
For two-time Scottish Open winner Catriona Matthew, the double-header will determine whether she will be making a ninth playing appearance in next month’s Solheim Cup in Des Moines, Iowa, or having to be content with a backroom role as one of Annika Sorenstam’s vice-captains. “I think I’ve played enough myself that I know I’ve got to produce a good couple of weeks here,” said the 47-year-old, who spearheads a nine-strong home challenge that also includes 2012 winner Carly Booth.
“It depends on a lot of factors and who qualifies and how other people play. We’ll just need to wait and see what happens these two weeks. It’s a big two weeks for probably a few of us going for those last couple of spots. I’ve got to go out there and play pretty well, just like the other ones do. At the end of the day, it comes down to results, perhaps a little bit of experience, helping on my part a little. I think it just depends perhaps on the make-up of the team.”
Frenchwoman Isabelle Boineau is hoping to shake off a “s*** season” to put up a respectable title defence in an event offering free admission to anyone who attended the men’s equivalent at the same venue a fortnight ago.