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SportsFebruary 25, 2016

Lydia Ko Hangin’ Tough on the LPGA Tour


If Haru Nomura’s win at the Australian Women’s Open – her first in 72 tournaments – makes her Marky Mark, what does that make runner-up Lydia Ko? Greg Bruce draws the link between early-90s pop and LPGA golf.

Lydia Ko and Haru Nomura in scenes probably reminiscent of the 1991 MTV Music Awards.  (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)
Lydia Ko and Haru Nomura in scenes probably reminiscent of the 1991 MTV Music Awards. (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

‘Marky’ Mark Wahlberg, younger brother of Donnie Wahlberg, scored a number one hit in 1991 with ‘Good Vibrations’ and was rediscovered last week when a New York Times golf reporter with a deadline that wouldn’t quit dug him up at a pro am tournament and asked for a quote.

The quote went as follows:

“I’m as competitive as it gets… I’m always trying to outdo myself.”

The reporter must have spent ages thinking through the story angles: “Mark Wahlberg, currently in the midst of a golf tournament, once had a single musical hit. Might there be people currently in the midst of a musical career,” she may have asked her hard-bitten-editor-with-a-heart-of-gold, “who, once won a golf tournament?” The answer, unfortunately, was no.

She was tenacious though – not for no reason did she work at the New York Times – and she wasn’t going to let a killer quote die on the vine, so she may have then asked if there has ever been a musical hit written about golf. The answer was again no. “Strange”, she probably thought, jotting the idea on the back cover of her shorthand notebook.

“How,” she thought aloud, huddled around a formica table in the break room with her editor, “are we going to work this quote into a story about golf?”

Who knows how lightning finally struck? The only important thing is that it did. The final, published, story centred around a series of interviews with players, all men, who had only won once during their long careers on tour. None of them seemed much like Wahlberg. They were generally quite happy with their performance. “Better to have won once than never to have won” – that type of thing. Good, well-adjusted people, clearly destined to be losers. That final Wahlberg quote about being as competitive as it gets appeared at the end of the article, a figurative and literal kicker – “You’ll never amount to anything, losers!” the reporter appeared to be saying.

One of the people the reporter didn’t call was Haru Nomura, who, last weekend, in her fifth year on tour, in her 72nd start, with no wins and only four top tens to her name and less than $1 million in prize money over that time, shot a stupendous 7-under in the final round of the Australian Open, to win in a showdown with the world’s best player, teenager Lydia Ko, who shot the second best round of the day.

You could see during that last round, as the two cleared away from the field, how good you have to be to win a professional golf tournament. As the pressure mounts, you must maintain the tightest control over your increasingly unreliable nervous system, and you must sustain that control for a long time.

Professional golf is relentless: 70-odd near-perfect shots over several hours each day for four days might win you a tournament. You might play a tournament every week, for a while at least, until you find yourself a soggy emotional mess on the floor of a European Travelodge one Monday morning having awoken from a nightmare in which Jim Furyk is helping rebuild your swing.

You win golf tournaments by one shot usually, or in a playoff. After 270ish shots, if you win by two, it’s a clear victory. If you win by three, as Nomura did, people say nobody was close.

In other words, it’s a relentless game of slim margins. It’s crucial to be talented, but everybody at the top is talented. Everybody can shoot a low round. The ability to grind away and never feel crushed by the pressure, to turn up and turn up, and always go close, that’s the most important thing.

Lydia Ko was second last weekend and first the week before. She’s won 10 times on the LPGA Tour. If Haru Nomura is Marky Mark, Lydia Ko is New Kids on the Block. And, as they said in their 1988 hit, ‘Hangin’ Tough’: “Everybody’s always talkin’ ’bout who’s on top / Don’t cross our path ’cause you’re gonna get stomped / We ain’t gonna give anybody any slack / And if you try to keep us down we’re gonna come right back.”

“Hangin’ Tough.”

The Spinoff Sports is brought to you by PGA Tour Live, New Zealand’s home of the PGA and LPGA.

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