LPGA Star Lydia Ko Used A Break To Take Up Rock Climbing And Level Up Her Strength, Fitness And Mindset
When Lydia Ko embarked on a new fitness and strength drive during lockdown, she wasn’t ready for the profound transformation it made, not only to her body but also to her golf game, energy levels and mindset.
Prior to 2020, the Kiwi golfer had, by her own admission, started to question whether she would return to the competitive heights achieved when she burst onto the scene as an all-conquering teenager, back in 2015.
Her renaissance was confirmed in 2021 when the 25-year-old won the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, her first LPGA title in three years. She says it can be put down to taking a fresh look at things, putting in the work and taking up new challenges… including, it seems, rock climbing...
RSNG People have commented on your dramatic upturn in fortunes post-lockdown, and the fact there is a more clinical edge to your game?
LYDIA KO, FORMER No. 1 LPGA GOLFER “I definitely feel like a better player. I actually feel a different player – more driven, more confident, more expectant of myself.
“I think it’s easy to fall into that mindset when you are playing well; and also different to get back into that mindset when you are playing not so well. It all comes down to momentum and being able to find a sweetspot to play in.
“I have spent a few years looking for that, so I am delighted to be able to get back to playing golf where the expectation I have on myself is that I will compete and win.”
RSNG How did you cope with what was a slow period in your career?
LYDIA KO “I am honest and open and of course I had long spells of self-doubt. That is perfectly natural as a golfer and we all have to go through that – it happens across seasons and months, across rounds, and even as you play each hole. There is always doubt and uncertainty, and I would sometimes wonder if I’d ever get back to where I was, but I think I am on my way now, definitely.”
When you think of grip, upper-body strength, twisting and manipulating the body and more, rock climbing feeds into all the requirements of golf
RSNG What changed?
LYDIA KO “Well I think the timing of lockdown was convenient to me, in a way, as it separated me from the game and the constant traveling or planning or practice.
“It meant I could explore other ways to look after my game, and I took up new sports, improved my fitness, spent more time at the gym, but generally took a step back.
“I use the analogy of a golfer playing with a consistent injury that never has time to heal because they keep having to turn up and play tournaments. That’s kind of how I felt – like I was never given enough time, or I never chose to take the time, to sit back and reconsider why my game wasn’t producing the rewards it used to.
“In the end that break was forced on me, but obviously I am really glad it was.”
RSNG I hear you’ve taken up rock climbing too?
LYDIA KO “Yes my coach wasn’t so impressed by my rock climbing as I think the worry is sustaining injuries, but really it feels as safe in that respect as most other sports.
“I can’t say rock climbing alone has transformed my game, but naturally when you think of grip, upper-body strength, twisting and manipulating the body and more, rock climbing feeds into all the requirements you have when you are out there on the golf course.”
RSNG In strength terms you appear to be right up there now with the big hitters?
LYDIA KO “I think everyone in golf has approached the reality that hitting the ball long and clean is now the foundation to posting low scores. If you have strength and power in your armory then you are going to be in a better challenging position than someone laying up short all the time – that goes without saying.”
RSNG So golf really is changing?
LYDIA KO “Golf, the game, and golf, the sport, is in a real period of flux at the moment where players across both sides of the sport are coming in, ripping up the rulebook and starting again.
“It really is a completely different sport to when I was first growing up watching it, and what a lot of players are doing is to be expected – it’s all about making up ground with your own personal advantage. It’s exciting and I am only one example of that process working.”
RSNG Was your fitness drive just to gain power?
LYDIA KO “No it wasn’t. It was a number of things and it just all combined to make sense for me.
“Firstly, I love food – when you travel to so many places I actually think it’s really important to embrace the culture and to show respect for that. Although golf is an active sport, when you’re competing there is a lot of time sat around waiting, so I don’t think I was in the best situation in the first place.
“I actually went on a fitness drive back in 2018, which included taking up Pilates – before that I never did any sort of workout routine.
“The idea of building power was also just to do something different that might add a new dimension to my game. I have always been relatively short on the fairway and needed to pull out shots to make up ground on others. To be at a disadvantage like that is not good, and I needed to give my game a shot in the arm, so that was it.”
Mentally and physically I feel a different person – I don’t feel that sense of fatigue that I used to get, and I feel tired through exertion, not laziness so it’s a very real change
RSNG How do you feel now?
LYDIA KO “Amazing. Mentally and physically I feel a different person. I don’t feel that sense of fatigue that I used to get. I feel tired through exertion, not laziness. It is a very real change.”
RSNG And it seems to be reflecting in your performances?
LYDIA KO “It is and I hope that carries on. I have been consistently back to the level I expect of myself now for over a year, and as I said, my mentality is now one of positive expectation.
“That reinforces the good shots I play – it is a good feeling – but it also helps me move past the bad shots or bad rounds; because now I am in the mindset that the next one will be different… will be better.”
WHAT NEXT? For another look behind the scenes of the LPGA, read the exclusive RSNG interview with Nelly Korda here.