NAPLES, Fla. – It’s been seven years since Lydia Ko won the Rolex LPGA Player of the Year award. So much life has transpired since then. She remembers being asked seven years ago in the media room at Tiburon Golf Club if she’d rather win the $1 million prize or the POY title. Ko, who has long been wise beyond her years, did not pick the money.
“Those kind of opportunities don’t come very often,” she said.
Back then, she couldn’t have imagined that she’d endure a three-year victory drought. That she’d one day dip below No. 50 in the world.
Now, at age 25, she’s back in position to win the Player of the Year award for a second time, leading Minjee Lee by a single point at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. She essentially has the Vare Trophy wrapped up for a second consecutive year.
Since 2015, Ko has worn a Rolex that has ‘Player of the Year’ engraved. A daily reminder of what’s possible.
“For me, a lot of ups and downs whether in golf and in my personal life have happened since 2015,” said Ko. “So if I was to get it, it would just be really cool because it would be like a summary, and all of those moments have added this moment right now. Yeah, I think it would be more special.”
The Vare Trophy and Player of the Year awards each come with an LPGA Hall of Fame point. It takes 27 to earn admission into one of the toughest Halls in all of sports. Ko isn’t exactly sure how many points she needs (five), but she does know how hard they are to collect.
“When I think about my last three wins in these last couple of years,” said Ko, “for me winning in Hawaii, I waited – I know some people wait longer – but it was three years pretty much until that win. I just know now that it’s just not as easy, and that’s why when these opportunities come, yes, I would like to grab it because I know they are not around the corner every single time.”
Ko, who is getting married later this year, said from the start of her professional career that she wouldn’t be out here forever. In fact, she set 30 as her LPGA retirement age.
The 18-time tour winner is a previous champion of the CME, and should she win here on Sunday, she’d collect three Hall of Fame points along with the $2 million paycheck.
How important is it to get to 27 before she retires? Ko said if she had only one point to go, she wouldn’t hang out on the tour longer than she wanted to get it.
“When I feel like it is the time for me to retire,” she said, “I will only know at that time, but I don’t want to leave the game and regret that I should have stopped then rather than trying to keep going and keep going and lose passion for golf.”
Golf Channel analyst Karen Stupples, a major champion, says Ko’s greatest asset has always been her mind. And that keeps getting better with age. Ko noted that seven years ago, she let a golf score determine her worth.
“If I had a bad day on the golf course, I didn’t feel like a good person,” said Ko. “I felt like golf was reflecting who I was, but now I think I have a better gauge of that and better perspective that this is what I do, and I’m very grateful to be able to do what I love.”