CHASKA, Minn. — Hazeltine National is long, playing 6,807 yards on Friday during the second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. As such, it was expected to be the perfect course for the LPGA Tour’s longer hitters. Lydia Ko is not one of those hitters, yet the 22-year-old former World No. 1 stands tied for third after two rounds, posting a two-under 70 on Friday.
Ko has averaged 251 yards off the tee in 2019, ranking No. 138 in distance. But she insisted that you don't necessarily need to hit it the farthest to score on the Robert Trent Jones course. Instead, she says, accuracy off the tee is more important. And since she’s 68 percent of fairways in the first two rounds, she might be on to something.
Part of her good ball-striking could be from the instruction she has been getting over the past couple weeks from David Whelan, the same coach who works with Jessica and Nelly Korda, among others, and the latest set of eyes Ko has used to help with her swing.
“He’s getting me to understand my swing a little bit more so that even if he’s not there, I’m still able to figure it out,” said Ko, who opened on Thursday with a one-under 71. “It’s just trying to get a few key points just to make sure that I can think about it, but not think about it too much, and when I’m out on the golf course and swinging freer then I think those are probably the basics. [I’m] just making sure that every shot I hit I’m hitting with confidence and not worrying about it.”
Ko had previously been working with Ted Oh, but parted ways with him in April shortly after the ANA Inspiration. Prior to connecting with Oh at the start of the 2018 season, Ko worked for a year with Gary Gilchrist and for three years before that with David Leadbetter after using Guy Wilson as her coach as an amateur.
Another key to scoring if you’re not terribly long, is putting. And Ko looked great on the greens on Friday, needing just 26 putts. There are two aspects of her putting that she thinks are working in her favor. One, she’s not standing over the ball as long. Two, she tells herself on each putt that she's the best putter in the world.
“Whether it goes in or not, that’s another thing,” Ko said. “I think that kind of helps me get my mind away from, Hey, is this going to go in or not? At the end of the day all I can do is put a good stroke on it.”
After two rounds, Ko sits three behind leader Hannah Green of Australia. Ko is tied with Sung Hyun Park, while Ariya Jutanugarn is alone in second at four under. This is the first time Green has led a major, and each of the three players within four shots of the lead have won two majors in their careers, setting up the potential for an interesting weekend.
One Ko hopes she can play a big part in.