Lydia Ko’s close brush with the LPGA Hall of Fame was a wake-up call

BRADENTON, Fla. – Lydia Ko’s approach shot on the first playoff hole nestled next to a bouquet of flowers and a row champagne bottles. Ko got relief from the grandstand (and the roses), but it was a cruel foreshadowing of what was to come.

A three-putt on the second playoff hole gave the LPGA Drive On Championship title to hometown favorite Nelly Korda, her first LPGA title since November 2022. A victory for the 26-year-old Ko would’ve made her the 35th member of the LPGA Hall of Fame and the 25th player in LPGA history to have earned 27 HOF points. Nine women were inducted as honorary members (eight LPGA founders and beloved entertainer Dinah Shore).

Alas, the champagne and roses will have to wait, which might not be such a bad thing for the LPGA. Sunday at the Drive On was edge-of-your-seat gripping. It even held the attention of Golf Twitter during the NFL Playoffs.

With the LPGA going on a three-week hiatus before heading to Asia, it’s probably best for the tour if Ko drags this out a little bit.

No one in the golf world is quite ready to say goodbye.

What if Ko were to get her 27th point in Paris with gold at the Olympics, concluding a medal sweep? What if she were to collect a third major title to get in? Imagine her marching into the Hall of Fame at the Old Course and then walking off into the sunset.

A storybook finish seems appropriate for a woman who won twice on the LPGA as an amateur. Ko’s greatest asset is her mind, and for her to nearly win the first two events of 2024 after experiencing her worst season on tour is a testament to that mental fortitude.

How hard is it to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame? Consider that Bradenton Country Club member Hollis Stacy, a four-time major winner who won 18 times on the LPGA, isn’t in it. Stacy was standing by the 18th green reveling in every second of the Ko vs. Korda showdown.

Last December, after Ko hit a stellar 3-wood at the Grant Thornton Invitational on the 17th to get her and partner Jason Day into the winner’s circle, Stacy texted Ko and told her to keep a video of that swing on her phone.

“That’s probably the best swing I’ve seen you make under pressure,” Stacy told her.

On Sunday at the Drive On, Ko hit a 3-hybrid on the par-5 17th that, while thin, might have trumped it, settling up a tap-in eagle that propelled her to the top of the board.

While Korda takes off seven weeks before her next stop (she’s heading to Prague on Monday to visit her grandparents) Ko will have a solid month off. She’s not playing in Thailand because, up until last week’s win at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, she wasn’t in the field. She won’t defend on the LET in Saudi Arabia either. Her next event will be the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.

Ko believes that being one point away from the Hall is actually less stressful than being two points away. Two feels far away, while one feels more doable.

“I think I was a lot calmer last week than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I was a lot calmer, I think, today than I thought I was going to be.”

Ko said hello to Stacy while in the midst of the action on the 18th green, and the LPGA legend marveled at how relaxed the Kiwi looked.

When it was over, Ko graciously thanked all the volunteers, hugged the friends who’d stuck around and made sure to congratulate Nelly’s parents, telling them to give eldest daughter Jessica Korda her best as she nears her due date.

More than a decade ago, Ko made it clear from the start of her professional career that she wouldn’t play past the age of 30. The Paris Olympics are important to her, but if she gets into the Hall of Fame this season, it’s hard to imagine her sticking around much longer.

Today was a loud reminder to enjoy Ko while we can. There likely won’t be another like her.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek