EXCLUSIVE: Lydia Ko reflects on slump and previews Olympic tournament

The New Zealander endured a dip in form after her Rio 2016 silver, but the pandemic enabled her to make major changes that have paid dividends.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Lydia Ko is happy and back to form as she bids for a second Olympic golf medal.

The New Zealander took silver at Rio 2016, midway through her second stint as women's world number one.

Then came something of a slump, as she lost top spot in June 2017 and, apart from victory at the LPGA Mediheal Championships in April 2018, tumbled down the rankings.

It wasn't until after the start of the pandemic that the Seoul-born golfer managed to put together a run of consistent performances, culminating in victory at April's Lotte Championship.

Ko finished tied for sixth at last month's Evian Championship, and she exclusively told Olympics.com that she's raring to go for a tilt at Tokyo 2020 gold.

"I think sometimes during those lows is when you're really able to learn more about yourself and learn about your game as well." - Lydia Ko to Olympics.com

What happened to Lydia Ko after Rio 2016?

Ko was still a teenager when she won two majors and an Olympic medal, having a hole-in-one on her way to silver at Rio 2016 behind Inbee Park.

Then came a dip in form and a split with famed swing coach David Leadbetter.

The regular title contender was struggling to make cuts on the tour with that LPGA Mediheal title rare light amidst the gloom.

Things got worse in 2019 as Ko recorded just two top-10 finishes, and the start of the pandemic in early 2020 saw her make some big changes.

She said, "When Covid went very bad last year, I had a few months off work and took a step back to re-assess my game. I started working with a new coach during that time.

"I was able to do a lot of things, like conditioning, with my trainers, instead of being on the road. More maintaining my body rather than getting stronger and fitter.

"Obviously, in general, things were not very good with everything that was going on. But in my career, it was a pretty important time for me to take a step back and see what I needed to work on."

Her link-up with Sean Foley, the former coach of Tiger Woods and Rio men’s gold medallist Justin Rose, in July that year, soon bore fruit with a second place at the Marathon LPGA Classic having just dropped out of the world’s top 50.

A number of top-10 finishes, including sixth at the rescheduled 2020 ANA Inspiration, followed.

The Kiwi kept that form going into 2021, with second place at the ANA Inspiration, back in its usual place as the first major of the year, before ending a three-year drought at the Lotte Championship.

As well as making a coaching change, Ko says she has learned from the past few years and now has a better equilibrium in her life.

“Obviously I’m very grateful to be doing what I love, but at the same time, there is more to life and there is more to me than just playing golf.

"I'm just enjoying everything and making sure that I’m having a balanced life and I think that’s probably the biggest thing for Lydia Ko."

Lydia Ko (L) celebrates with 2021 Evian Championship winner Minjee Lee
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Lydia Ko looks ahead to the Olympic women’s golf tournament at Tokyo 2020 in 2021

After Xander Schauffele took men’s gold at Kasumigaseki Country Club, it’s over to the women.

Length off the tee proved to be an asset last week, and looks set to be so again, with new world number one Nelly Korda and reigning champion Inbee Park among the favourites.

There are four Americans and four Koreans in the 60-strong field, plus Australia’s recent Evian Championship hero Minjee Lee.

Having dominated majors in recent years, South Korea is without one in 2021, with Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, SASO Yuka of the Philippines, and Korda breaking their major title ducks this year.

They will all be teeing it up on Wednesday for round one of the Olympic women’s golf tournament at Tokyo 2020.

Ko said of this week’s test, “It’s definitely different to the course we played in Rio and a little longer as well. This is a very traditional Japanese style golf course. I think it’s really important to stay on the fairways and out of the rough.

"There are some tougher holes where you need to play smart but, at the end of the day, there are only three medallists so you do have to play aggressively too."

Ko was just 19 and ranked world number one in Rio, and says she feels more relaxed going into this tournament.

"There is a little bit less pressure having won a medal before. In 2016, there was pressure on with people expecting you to medal.

"It would be great to stand on the podium again with the flag flying, but I’m going to try not to think about the outcome and just play the best golf I can."

"Hopefully I'll be standing on the podium, but I'm just going to enjoy the experience of being here at the Olympic Games." - Lydia Ko to Olympics.com

How to watch and follow Olympic women’s golf at Tokyo 2020

Round one of the Olympic women’s golf competition starts on Wednesday (4 August) at 7.30am local time (22:30 UTC Tuesday).

It is a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament with no midway cut.

If there is a tie for the medal places after the fourth round, a sudden-death playoff will decide the outcome, starting on the 18th hole.

You can find out where to watch all the action at the Tokyo Olympic Games by clicking here.

You can follow golf and all the other sports at the Games, in the official Tokyo 2020 Olympics live blog.

READ: Why are South Korea's women so good at golf?

READ: Nelly Korda: Top facts you might not know about the LPGA's newest star


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