DALY CITY, Calif. – Lydia Ko joked that being a member of Lake Merced Golf Club has contributed to a friendly bounce or two at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. A two-time winner here, the end of Ko’s victory drought might come down to the intangibles. Like the joy of having two friends fly in from a world away to celebrate her 21st birthday.
“I saw them on the range on Monday and I was like, ‘That’s my sister and that looks a lot like Steve and that looks a lot like Daniel, but why are they here?’ I was like, “Oh, my God, is that really them?’ … If I wasn’t that surprised, I would have cried, but nobody wants to see me crying in the middle of the driving range.”
Ko takes the lead into a final round at Lake Merced for the first time since the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. The former World No. 1 and eye-popping prodigy looks to end a victory drought that stretches back nearly 22 months. Ko’s second-round 5-under 67 on the outskirts of San Francisco puts her at 11-under 205, one stroke ahead of surging Jessica Korda (71) and three ahead of Minjee Lee, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced in 2012.
Ko’s older sister, Sura, orchestrated the surprise week-long visit from Steve Hong and Daniel Hunter. Sura met Hong while at university in Auckland and for the past three seasons, Hong has trained Ko in South Korea over winter break. Hunter, also trained by Hong, recently broke a New Zealand record in the 100m freestyle. The 6-foot-7 swimmer traveled from New Zealand, and Hong flew in from Seoul to surprise their friend.
Sura made a reservation on Tuesday at Beretta for Italian in the Mission District of San Francisco. LPGA players on hand included Yani Tseng, Megan Khang, Su Oh, Danielle Kang and Simin Feng. The only hiccup to the evening: Ko forgot her I.D.
“I told the bartender to Google it,” said Sura, noting that he could find a Wikipedia page on nearly every person at the table to verify ages. No dice.
Ko, a habitually glass-half-full kind of gal, surely didn’t let the hiccup spoil her evening.
Hunter, who missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics by 0.04 seconds in the 50m freestyle, marveled at the fact that Ko has followed each bogey on her card this week with a birdie. He has applied Ko’s bounce-back attitude to his own competitions, putting one bad race to the side quickly so that he can focus on what’s next.
“She’s just always happy,” said Hunter. “I’ve never seen her not happy.”
After Saturday’s round, Ko preached the virtues of patience and positivity. She hasn’t won in her last 43 starts, a hefty number given how easy she made the first 14 titles look.
When asked for an example of when she hadn’t been patient or positive while in contention, Ko pointed to the ’16 Women’s Open at CordeValle Golf Club, down the road in San Martin.
“To me I think the biggest tournament I’ve learned from,” said Ko, “not actually like after that tournament was done but now looking back, is probably the (2016) U.S. Open. I made, I don’t know if I made double or triple, I can’t even remember, on the ninth hole on the final day. … I said, well, now looking back, if maybe I hadn’t been so frustrated about making that mistake and I just moved on and stayed positive for that whole back nine, maybe things could have changed. So I think that was a really – now when I look back, that was a huge learning point for me that you really never know what’s going to happen.”
Ko ultimately finished two strokes out of the controversial playoff against Anna Nordqvist and eventual winner Brittany Lang.
When asked if the pressure to win comes mostly from outside sources, like the media, or is more self-imposed, the polite Ko apologized to scribes when saying she keeps her distance from day-to-day reports.
“I have no idea if somebody’s saying great things about me or bad things about me,” said Ko. “I think that’s actually been nice where I’m focusing on what’s in front of me and what I can do and what I can control. … Sometimes self-pressure is the biggest pressure, because you’re the one that kind of knows yourself the best, and you want it.”