Positive Attitude Helps Ko Adapt to Changes July 13, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

Lydia Ko hasn't won yet in 2017, but she doesn't feel like her game is very far off. Her 68 in Round 1 demonstrated just that. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Women's Open Home

By this time last year, Lydia Ko had won three tournaments and posted 10 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour.

What a difference a year makes.

A 14-time winner already at age 20, Ko is not accustomed to slow starts, but she has had to find positives in her slower-rolling momentum this season. She has also had to trust that all the changes she has made in her game are starting to jell.

And while Ko is winless this season, her score of 4-under-par 68 in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship has placed her within striking range of the leaders, right where the New Zealander wants to be.

“When it is calm and you have birdie chances, you try to grab those chances,” said Ko, who carded six birdies and two bogeys in Thursday’s first round, which featured ideal scoring conditions for the morning starters.

“[But] it wasn’t necessarily easy to make those birdies,” she added.

It’s not like Ko has been a bust in 2017. She has recorded seven top-10s, including a tie for second at the Lotte Championship in April, and stands 22nd on the money list.

But 2017 has not rendered the typical splashy results that have made Ko a regular LPGA Tour contender ever since she won her first tour event as a 15-year-old amateur at the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open.

“I don’t feel like I’ve played bad golf,” said Ko, currently No. 4 in the world. “But no matter what you’re playing like, you always have to stay positive and patient.”

Ko’s typically rock-solid stability began to twitch last October when she split with caddie Jason Hamilton, with whom she had teamed for two years. She also dumped new caddie Gary Matthews this spring after nine events and is working with Peter Godfrey this week.

The bigger news came in late 2016 when she parted ways with swing coaches David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan after three years to begin working with instructor Gary Gilchrist. Ko pocketed eight wins worldwide and the LPGA’s top rookie honors in 2015 under the tutelage of Leadbetter and Hogan.

She also made an equipment change, switching from Callaway Golf to PXG Golf in January. As recently as Thursday’s first round, she was still testing new putters from PXG.

“I made changes, but they were pretty much six months ago ... and I feel like all the changes I’ve made, they have been good,” said Ko. “And with anything, you change it and it always takes time to get a little used to.”

Playing in her sixth Women’s Open this week, Ko is coming off a tie for third last year after she led well into the final round at CordeValle. She is hopeful after today’s solid opening round, which included just 24 putts.

By no means is Ko floundering, but by her own standards, the player is hoping this week can ignite the spark she’s been seeking for half a year.

“I’ve been very fortunate about the things that have happened in my career so far,” she said. “Those things that some just dream of really happened to me.”

And it’s an easy guess what her next dream might be this week, as Ko looks for her first win of 2017.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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