George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish writer, once penned: “Youth is the most precious thing in life; it is too bad it has to be wasted on young folks.” At the wise old age of 25, Lydia Ko is out to prove him wrong, displaying on Saturday at the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica that the lessons of youth can be put to good use later in life.
Ko, who started the day eight strokes off the pace at 1 under par, in a tie for 21st place, climbed the leader board at the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club with a 5-under-par 66 in the third round to be at 6-under-par 207 going into Sunday’s final round, in fourth place, seven strokes behind leader Minjee Lee and four strokes behind Mina Harigae, who’s in second.
If there should be a stumble at the top, Ko is poised to strike.
“Overall, I think I played solid and I hit a lot of greens,” Ko said. “Some of the greens I hit, it was far from the pin, but still, you take any green in regulation. I think I stayed pretty patient out there, and I think that's what I did pretty well these last few days.”
That sounds like the wisdom accumulated through a lifetime of experience, some of it in the school of hard knocks.
“You know that even though it's the same as any other 72-hole event, this week just feels a little longer, a little tougher,” she said about the challenge of the U.S. Women’s Open. “I just try to stay patient, try to have a good time out there, and to be able to play some good golf with that is definitely a bonus.”
Ko’s performance at Pine Needles is another – and perhaps the most dramatic – step on her Great Vindication Tour. She burst onto the LPGA like a ball of fire, winning Rolex Rookie of the Year in 2014 and Rolex Player of the Year in 2015, when she became the youngest winner of an LPGA major by taking the Amundi Evian Championship at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days. She won the very next major she played – the 2016 Chevron Championship – but has not won a major since.
In fact, after winning 15 times on the LPGA through the 2018 season, she went three years without a victory, falling to No. 40 in the Rolex Rankings. But she backed up her win at the 2021 Lotte Championship with career win No. 17 this year at the Gainbridge LPGA and came into this U.S. Women’s Open at No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings. Ko the Older is suddenly looking a lot like Ko the Younger.
The story of Lydia Ko is all about the precocious performance of ridiculously talented youth. She won her first professional event at the age of 14 and at 15 was the youngest to win an LPGA event. In February 2015, she became the youngest to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings at 17 years, 9 months and 9 days of age.
She played in her first U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in 2012, finishing as the low amateur. Her best effort in the championship is T-3 at CordeValle in 2016 when she took a one-stroke lead into the final round but closed with a 75 to finish two strokes out of the playoff won by Brittany Lang over Anna Nordqvist.
On Sunday at Pine Needles she has a chance to erase that bad memory and to take her Great Vindication Tour to another level.
“You just never know, right?” she said about the demands of this championship. “It's the U.S. Women's Open; there's always that little bit of adrenaline and little bit of nerves that maybe necessarily don't come at any other event. I'm just going to focus on my game, just enjoy it. You just have to play really smart.”
Those sound like the words of a woman who, at only 25, has already played in 47 major championships, including this, her 11th U.S. Women’s Open. Those sound like the words of someone who has been No. 1 and fallen to No. 40. Those sound like the words of someone who had 15 LPGA wins at age 21 and then went three years without winning.
Those sound like the words of a woman anxious to put the lessons of youth to good use.
“I think this has been one of the most fun venues of the U.S. Women's Open that I've played, so hopefully I'd better finish off my week well and see where that puts me at the end of tomorrow,” she said.
“I think playing smart at any U.S. Open is key and especially around greens,” Ko said. “I think for most parts I didn't make too many mistakes, and I think when I was out of position I was able to scramble well.”
From the sound of it, Lydia Ko is thinking a lot. And that’s a good thing. When it comes to Ko, youth has not been wasted on the young.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.