Lydia Ko's confidence is key to her success
Golfing superstar in the making Lydia Ko's success as a junior may have tricked her into bypassing the normal stages of self-doubt, says a leading New Zealand sport psychologist.
Ko, who headlines this week's New Zealand Women's Open at Clearwater, seems like she's been around for years winning amateur tournaments in New Zealand - and she has.
The now-16-year-old played her first professional tournament, the 2010 New Zealand Open, as a 12-year-old and finished tied for seventh.
The next year she won the Australian women's amateur strokeplay tournament and the New Zealand women's amateur strokeplay and matchplay events.
Her success has brought with it a confidence and belief in herself, and her preparation that is likely to breed more success.
"It's youth combined with confidence," according to Jason Yuill Proctor, a sport psychologist with High Performance Sport New Zealand.
"She's had success at a young age and so hasn't had the same reasoning to doubt her abilities," he said.
"Success gives her the ability and knowledge that she knows she can compete with pressure."
Yuill Proctor said it was similar with Tiger Woods initially. He was successful and that bred further success. Then when his marriage publicly fell apart, his game was affected.
"It's taken a while for him to come back because he now know's he's fallible.
"We don't know if Lydia has had enough bad days to know that she's capable of having bad days."
She's had very few and has made the cut in every professional tournament she's played in.
Yuill Proctor has never worked with Ko, but said it was obvious she knew how to handle pressure and the mental side of golf - another key to her success.
"With golf, the [mental side] is huge because the margin of error is so small. It's about repetition, and a slight adjustment makes a huge difference.
"It affects decision-making, too. When people aren't confident, it can have a huge impact in their decision-making."
Other keys, Yuill Proctor said, were the ability to switch on and off during a round and Ko can often be seen smiling or joking - even skipping down the fairway in the past - between shots.
"Focusing away from the unimportant stuff like results or the pressure of one shot is important. Anxiety can really affect sportspeople because it produces adrenaline."
In golf that would mean more power, but not necessarily in a good way.
"With the pressure, that can produce jerky movement because we don't trust what we're doing or our he Proctor said.
Expectation was the other important issue Ko faced this week.
The world No 4 is expected to win, and win well, despite there being 132 other professional golfers, several of them multiple champions, in the field trying to win.
But it's Ko's expectation on herself that will affect her more than the public's.
"Our expectation for her to win is different from hers," Yuill Proctor said.
"She may rate it differently and she could be seeing this as a really enjoyable experience. There's the home advantage, too. Most sportspeople like to play at home, there's a comfort factor to it."
Ko has plenty of confidence in her game, but Yuill Proctor said confidence comes in two types and Ko has the right one.
"You don't want false confidence where you don't look at your weaknesses and don't improve," he said.
"But if you know what you're doing works, then there's one less thing to worry about and that's the type of confidence I think Lydia probably has.
"Once you've done everything you can and are in the best condition then you're going to be more confident. Then you can just focus on the moment and that's the key.
"Anyone who has had the success that she's had in a sport that's all about pressure, handling that pressure must be a strength and it must be one of hers, it can't not be considering the success she's already had."
- © Fairfax NZ News