BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Lydia Ko smiled and threw her hands in the air when asked about closing out the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open Thursday with a bogey.
“This is one of the best rounds I’ve ever had to start off the U.S. Open, so I’ll take this 68,” she said.
That is quintessential Lydia Ko right there.
Even with something slightly amiss with her game all year, there is still this force field around her repelling negative energy.
“That is what makes her mind so great for golf,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “She’s always going to focus on the plus, not the negative.”
That has been a key to Ko working through so many changes this year. With new equipment, a new coach and a new caddie, Ko hasn’t been the same factor on Sundays since making all those changes.
That 4-under-par 68 at Trump National was Ko’s best start in a U.S. Women’s Open, her first time breaking 70 in the opening round. She is in early contention to try to end her nearly one-year winless spell, the longest of her young career. She was two shots behind Shanshan Feng through the morning wave.
“I haven't had much of a good start at the U.S. Women's Open,” Ko said. “This is the biggest major championship. We all want to peak at this time of the year so I'm happy with the way I started.”
Ko, who turned 20 earlier this year, has already won the Evian Championship and the ANA Inspiration. A year ago, she had a chance to add the U.S. Women’s Open. She led going into the final round at CordeValle but saw her bid unravel after hitting her ball into a hazard at the ninth hole and closing with a 75.
Ko was enjoying a dreamy run in the majors before that stumble.
Heading to CordeValle, Ko had finished third or better in five consecutive majors. She won two of them. Since then, she finished T-40, T-43, T-11 and T-59 in the majors.
Last month, Ko lost her world No. 1 ranking, ending a reign of 85 consecutive weeks. She has slipped to No. 4.
Through all of it, Ko has betrayed little frustration.
“No matter if you're playing good or not, you always have to stay positive and stay patient,” Ko said. “I don't feel like I’ve played bad golf. I was in a few good positions and in contention a few times, but wasn't able to bring it together for the whole four days or three days. Hopefully, I'll be more consistent and put myself in better positions.”
Ko’s putter helped her to Thursday’s fast start.
With a subtle new version of her PXG Bat Attack putter, and with a new putting coach helping her, Ko needed just 24 putts in the first round. She scrambled well.
Ko began working with Gareth Raflewski a month ago. He also works with Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, and with Jane Park, who is the wife of Ko’s caddie, Peter Godfrey.
“The greens are firm and fast, like they normally are at the U.S. Women's Open, so I was trying to just be positive and just be patient,” Ko said. “I think those two words are really important for me, just don't get too caught up in the bogeys, or the missed shot, or the one putt I missed. I know there are a lot of good things going on, so as long as I just stay focused on the shot in front of me, I think that really worked well today.”
That’s a focus that has helped Ko remain patient as she seeks to win for the first time since the Marathon Classic almost one year ago.
“She has a great mind to play this game,” Gilchrist said. “She got confidence at such a young age, and she will always go back to her roots. She is naturally optimistic and positive.”