How Lydia Ko has avoided burnout

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off on the sixth hole at the Manulife LPGA Classic golf tournament in Cambridge, Ontario, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Photo / AP.
Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off on the sixth hole at the Manulife LPGA Classic golf tournament in Cambridge, Ontario, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Photo / AP.

An acceptance that she can't ever be perfect will help Lydia Ko avoid burnout.

The world No 1 female golfer has often been compared to Michelle Wie. Both were exceptionally talented at a young age but Wie, who almost played in a PGA Tour against men when she was just 11 and turned pro at 16, didn't live up to the hype. She even earned the moniker 'Little Miss Too Much Too Soon' and drew comparisons to tennis player Anna Kournikova as having more style than substance.

Ko is different. She has delivered on that potential and even though she is still young - 19 - there's considerable optimism she can remain at the top of women's golf for some time.

Ko and Wie have been compared in a new book, Lydia Ko, by New Zealand journalist Michael Donaldson, due out on October 3.

"What's the difference between Wie and Ko?" Donaldson asks. "Why at 18 was Michelle Wie washed up and looking to break out of golf and find another life, while Lydia seemed to sail on unharmed and unhurt?

"The difference is all to do with burnout. Michelle Wie had burned out at 18. Despite a punishing schedule that has seen her playing at the top level since she was just 14, Lydia has escaped it."

Interestingly, both golfers were coached by David Leadbetter, who was initially concerned about the amount of golf Ko was playing at 15 and 16. "This girl's impressive," Leadbetter said. "You just hope they don't push the burnout button."

One of the things that Ko seems to have done, according to Donaldson, is avoid falling into the trap of seeking perfection.

"The trick for Lydia - and the thing that stops her endlessly pursuing an unattainable ideal - is that while she will do everything she can to create the best possible shot, or outcome, she accepts perfectionism is impossible in the infuriatingly fickle world of golf.

"Golf is Not a Game of Perfect is the title of a seminal golf psychology book by Dr Bob Rotella, an American who has worked with some of the world's top professionals. It's also a phrase John Lister used with little Lydia Ko when showing her the ropes at Gulf Harbour - and it's something she seems to have taken on board in a manner many other players cannot replicate.

'There can never be a perfect round of golf,' Lydia observed. 'Even if you made 18 birdies, couldn't some of the putts have gone in the middle of the hole instead of the side? Couldn't all the drives have gone in the perfect centre of the fairway? In fact, couldn't you just leave your putter home because every approach shot went in the hole instead of stopping three feet away?'

"Understanding that she's human, rather than a robot, and not expecting impossible standards of herself has ensured Lydia doesn't mentally torture herself by seeking a Holy Grail that simply does not exist."

The book continues: "Lydia's way of dealing with mistakes, her way of forgiving herself, is to laugh. 'When I laugh after making a bogey, it's not because I think bogeys are funny. What I'm laughing at is how clumsy I was to hit a shot that led to the bogey. You can get angry at yourself for making silly mistakes, or you can laugh. Laughing is better.'"

She certainly seems to be having fun when she's playing and it seems to be working.

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