Golf

Lydia Ko considered skipping Gainbridge LPGA after surgery, but she couldn’t resist a home game at Lake Nona


Lydia Ko can’t decide how she should make her way to the Lake Nona clubhouse next week. Should she drive her car, take her golf cart or walk to the Gainbridge LPGA event?

“I didn’t think I’d have to make these decisions,” she said with a laugh.

Ko underwent nose surgery for a deviated septum one month ago in South Korea and considered skipping the Gainbridge event, held last year in Boca Raton, Florida. But when it was announced in mid-January that the second event of the season would be played in her literal backyard, Ko knew she couldn’t miss it. The former No. 1 has been a member of Lake Nona for three years and has lived inside the gates for just over a year.

Anne van Dam said she’ll have to drive to the clubhouse because it’s about a 20-minute walk from her house inside the gates. The Jutanugarn sisters, Ariya and Moriya, also practice out of Lake Nona but decided not to come back from Thailand just yet. Lindy Duncan is a frequent practice partner of Ko’s out at Nona – they can be seen on the course settling up bets with push-ups ­– and she’ll be in the field. Ko joked that she might put up a “Go Lindy” sign on her house.

Anna Nordqvist and Yani Tseng once lived at Lake Nona but have since moved out west. Annika Sorenstam sold her house to Tseng and then moved across the fairway into David Leadbetter’s old house on the 16th hole at Nona. Next week Sorenstam will tee it up against LPGA players for the time since she retired for the tour in 2008.

Like so many current LPGA players, Ko has never competed in the same field as Sorenstam. If they’re on opposite sides of the draw next week, Ko said she’d love to go follow Sorenstam’s group.

“It’s a shame we won’t have fans,” said Ko. “There will be great hype (for Annika). I’m super looking forward to it.”

In addition to playing with the LPGA players who call Nona home, van Dam also tees it up with the likes of major winners Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell. Sometimes she plays against the men from the tips (7,215 yards) where her low score is 3 or 4 under.

“How they can shape shots and the diversity of their game is incredible,” said van Dam of Nona’s PGA Tour members.

Anne Van Dam (right) and Suzann Pettersen (left) of Team Europe celebrate winning a hole during Day 2 of the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Last December van Dam, one of the longest players in the women’s game who boasts one of the most enviable swings, started working with Sean Foley, who also works with Ko.

Their main focus, she said, has been on her wedge game from 150 yards in.

“For me, the main key was because I swing so fast, I have a lot of speed in my hands and arms,” she said, “that it’s sometimes hard to control a 60-yard shot or three-quarter nine. … I almost feel like I swing with less lag.”

Karen Stupples, another former Lake Nona resident who will be working next week for Golf Channel, said van Dam’s length off the tee is a big advantage at the Tom Fazio-designed course.

“It’s a course you could play every single day of your life and never get bored,” Stupples said.

Before the tour resumed last summer in July at the Drive On event in Toledo, Foley gave Ko and Duncan several games to try to keep things interesting. They sometimes played worst ball for nine holes or worked on their wedge games by playing from the forward tees.

Ko flew back to South Korea after the CME Group Tour Championship and took six weeks off from golf, her longest stretch to date.

“I couldn’t breathe out of my left nostril before the surgery,” said Ko, who was told it would take two to three months to fully recover.

Ko has met with Foley several times since she returned to Florida and said they’ve picked up where they left off last season. She was quite pleased with the consistency of her game in the 12 tournaments she played after the LPGA season resumed last July. She posted nine top-20 finishes and didn’t miss a single cut.

In addition to changes in technique, Ko said Foley has taught her a lot about acceptance and gratitude.

Sometimes it’s easy to get so invested in the moment, she explained, and get emotional or irrational when things don’t go her way. She has worked on doing her best in the moment and then moving on.

“I tried to play with that mindset last year,” she said, “to be able to play more freely and just kind of trust myself. I think that’s sometimes more important than the technical side.”

The 15-time LPGA winner doesn’t often keep score when she’s practicing at home. She does, however, remember a period early on at Nona when she just wanted to break par.

Van Dam actually has two chances to compete at home this year with the Big Green Egg Dutch Ladies Open being played less than 15 minutes from her house in Holland at the Rosendaelsche Golf Club June 30-July 3 on the Ladies European Tour.

That’s a tougher commute given that it’s on the heels of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Atlanta.

Those with local knowledge at Nona have the benefit of skipping five-hour practice rounds. They’ll have the comforts of their own bed and their own fridge and popping out late in the evening for a quick loop. They won’t have to worry about heavy traffic or getting lost.

But, unlike many rounds played at home, they will have to keep score.





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