It’s been a minute for Lydia Ko.
The former world No. 1 shot a 65 on Friday in the first round of the 2023 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, which is, believe it or not, her best round in a most forgettable season.
Ko had seven birdies and just one bogey and posted her best round of the year so far by a shot. Ko has 19 wins and 102 top-10s in her career but her only top 10 this year came back in February. Her average finish in 2023 is 43rd. She’s played 15 events prior to this week at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas, but has missed four cuts. She did make the weekend in three of the five majors but still, this has been the most un-Lydia-Ko-like season.
In 52 rounds in 2023, she’s broken 70 only 15 times, including Friday’s round. Her lowest point this year came a month ago in the third round of the CPKC Women’s Open, where she bottomed out with a 10-over 82.
She’s 84th on the LPGA’s 2023 money list with $209,776. She won the money title a year ago with $4,364,403.
Maybe this is the spark that gets things turned around.
“I played pretty solid. I don’t think I put myself in too many crazy positions where I had to make up and down. Actually hit it in the water on the par-3, 6 or 5, whatever it is, and I had to drop and I chipped it in for par. So that was definitely good momentum because I had gone birdie, bogey, birdie, and if I didn’t chip it in, would’ve been bogey or more,” she said, recounting her round. “So I think that just helped my day going. I set up a lot of good birdie opportunities, especially from 9 onwards, and couple where it was only like a couple feet. So it’s definitely nice to have those kind of stress-free birdies.”
Ko counts the 2016 Walmart NW Arkansas event among her 19 wins. She noted that seven years ago seems like a long time.
“I see the picture of me in the clubhouse and it feels like a really long time ago. It was 2016, so like seven years ago. A lot of things have happened since then,” she said. “It’s always good to be back at a place where I have a lot of good memories. Played with the same pro-am group for eight years, so it’s just feel like it’s home away from home. Outside of my golf, just seeing them is also like a treat for me when I come here to Arkansas.”
Ko has one of six first-rond 65s, which are all tied for the lead. Also in the group is Christina Kim and Hannah Green.