KILDEER, Ill. – Over the winter Lydia Ko ate three meals a day with new swing instructor Ted Oh. They worked together Monday through Friday in Phoenix, and then on weekends Oh would drive to the California desert to work his golf camp and see his family.
Their main focus in those early weeks was her scoring clubs. Oh figured that as Ko worked through swing changes, she could rely on her wedges to post numbers and keep up her confidence. For four hours a day, Oh would call out numbers from 100 yards and in with a walkie-talkie and deliver immediate feedback on her distance control.
Ko and Oh worked to limit the extra movement in the former No. 1’s swing. They created more width in her backswing. She was a tad across the line at the top too, Oh said. The pair could be found grinding on the range together during the Asian swing last spring. Things even looked intense on the practice tee in San Francisco last April, where Ko won for the first time in two years. A relieved Oh broke down in tears at Lake Merced.
This week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Oh saw Ko for the first time in several weeks and they have turned a significant corner.
“This was probably the first week this year that we were just trying to maintain,” said Oh.
Ko came into Friday with a simple goal of making the cut. She’d opened with a 2-over 74, and while the ball-striking felt good, putts weren’t falling.
When she dropped a 15-foot left-to-right birdie putt on the opening hole, her momentum took a major shift. She carded eight birdies on a scorcher of a day at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, including a chip-in on the par-4 12th.
“What did I shoot today? 66?” Ko asked. “I will take it on a Friday.”
The two-time major winner’s 4-under 140 total puts her two shots back of Brooke Henderson (71), So Yeon Ryu (69) and Sung Hyun Park (72). Two years ago Henderson clipped Ko in a playoff at this championship. Ryu and Park, both major winners last season, ended 2018 at LPGA co-Players of the Year.
“Today literally Lydia made everything,” said Ryu, “so she just made look everything really easier. I was like, well, if she can do that, maybe I should do that, and then I started to make birdies on the back nine.”
Ko’s confidence surged after her victory at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. She has posted three top-10 finishes since, including a solo third at the Meijer. A thinner Ko – from increased cardio – said she has worked on swinging more aggressively through the ball with Oh. Some of her misses off the tee earlier in the season came from being too tentative, she said.
Now that many of the offseason changes have settled in, a more consistent Ko can fall back on her strongest asset – her mind.
“I think confidence is a huge thing for me,” said Ko, “where the swing itself or the stroke itself is not too different. But if I’m out there playing with confidence, I’m just able to execute the shots a little better.”