Ko up for battle with rival Ariya
Despite major changes, Lydia is not worried about Thai's threat to No. 1 ranking
When she won the ANA Inspiration last April for her second Major title, as well as three other LPGA Tour victories and an Olympic silver medal, it seemed like normal service for teenage golfing sensation Lydia Ko.
But, after winning the Marathon Classic last July, it has been six months since her last victory on the LPGA Tour, her longest title drought since turning pro in October 2013.
The 19-year-old also did not post a top-10 finish in her five tournaments before the season-finale CME Group Tour Championship, and finished out of the top 40 three times.
In her last two Majors - the Ricoh Women's British Open and the Evian Championship - world No. 1 Ko tied for 40th and 43rd respectively and major overhauls ensued as she changed her caddie, coaches and clubs.
Hot on her heels for the top ranking is Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, who was the hottest women's player last year as she closed out 2016 with five LPGA Tour wins, including the British Open.
Not only has the 21-year-old risen to world No. 2, she also shattered the glass ceiling for Asean golfers by becoming the first South-east Asian to win a golf Major.
True to Ko's affable personality, even with Ariya openly expressing her desire to take over the summit, the New Zealander graciously welcomed the threat.
"Ariya is a great player, she's very confident and it's good to be confident," Ko told The New Paper in a phone interview, ahead of the duo's showdown at the Australia Open next month before they meet again at the HSBC Women's Champions here in Singapore from March 2 to 5.
"Ever since she was an amateur, we all knew how talented she was.
What she’s doing for golf in Thailand, being the first Major winner from the region, is amazing.World No. 1 Lydia Ko on Ariya Jutanugarn
"It was great to see her win and continue playing so well.
"What she's doing for golf in Thailand, being the first Major winner from the region, is amazing.
"She's a great competitor and I enjoy playing with her."
To avoid suffering from burnout and the same fate as fallen world No. 1s such as Taiwanese Tseng Ya-ni and South Korean Shin Jiyai, even for someone who intends to retire at 30, Ko has to first get used to the major changes she made last year.
First, she split with Jason Hamilton, her caddie of two years. Then, she parted ways with instructors David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan whom she worked with for three years.
During the off-season, Ko also made the switch from Callaway to PXG.
"It was really a coincidence that all those changes happened at around the same time. They are exciting changes even if they are big ones," she said.
"I respect the people that I have worked with. I feel I have learnt more about my game and grown as a player and a person.
"For my new equipment, the irons are more forgiving for my misses. If I have a missed shot, it's not as penalised.
"It wasn't the greatest end to my season but, when I looked at it overall, it was a season for me to be proud of.
"Just to be able to feel refreshed and a little different is a good change. It's exciting to go back to basics and feel like as if I'm back to my rookie year.
"That's my mindset, stay positive and have a lot of fun."
After becoming the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour when she won the Canadian Women's Open at the age of 15 years and four months in 2012, Ko has plenty of growing up done.
So it's refreshing to see her retain a measure of child-like nature while remaining dialled in to the cruel and competitive world of sport.
She said: "I'm excited about not being in the teens anymore.
"Even up until two years ago, I was always the youngest one on Tour, but not anymore.
"It feels good to feel I have grown up and I'm going to embrace it."
Asked about her new year resolution, she added: "I'm a bit of a tech freak, I'm on my phone a lot, so my mum and sister suggested it's going to be beneficial for me to use the phone less, so my new year resolution is definitely that.
"Without them (her family), I wouldn't be in this position. I'm very thankful for the time and support they have given me.
"Even though sometimes we may have different opinions, I know all they want is the best for me. They will forever be a part of my team and I know they will always be there to support and guide me."