Golf: World No.1 Lydia Ko seeking to step it up at Founders Cup

Lydia Ko hits a shot along the fairway during the third round of the HSBC Women's Champions golf tournament at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore on March 4, 2017.
Lydia Ko hits a shot along the fairway during the third round of the HSBC Women's Champions golf tournament at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore on March 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) - A runners-up finish in last year's LPGA Founders Cup sparked a back-to-back title run by top-ranked Lydia Ko, who returns this week hoping for more in the season's first US event.

The 19-year-old South Korean-born New Zealand star has not won since last July, working on swing changes and even a new putting grip as she tries to remain world No. 1.

Ko arrived at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, Arizona, ahead of Thursday's start coming off top-10 showings in Thailand and Singapore in her past two LPGA events.

"Definitely nice to see some good results the last couple weeks in Asia," Ko said. "I hit the ball pretty well in Australia. I really couldn't score and I couldn't make the putts... It was nice to see a few drop the last couple weeks.

"To see those kind of good results with all the changes that have happened gives me a little bit of confidence going into this stretch of events."

It's a run where she shined last year, going from second at Phoenix to winning the Kia Classic, a title she defends next week, and her second major crown at the ANA Inspiration, a crown she will defend in two weeks at Rancho Mirage, California.

"It's always nice to be back to a place where you've played well," Ko said. "I love the West Coast. No matter how well I play, I just enjoy these three stretch of events."

It comes as Ko is finding success after changing caddies, coaches and equipment providers. She is working on a new swing that goes to the core of her patterns.

"Transition-wise has actually been very easy and pretty smooth," Ko said. "I guess the hard part is because I have my old habits and things that I've always done since I was like five. Those things will always creep in here and there."

Ko also decided it was time to adjust her putting grip this year to a more conventional one. "I came back from the off-season and said, 'Man, the left-hand low felt a little different.' It felt a little uncomfortable," she said. "Even short putts for the conventional grip and the numbers were just as good or even better. That was one of the reasons I changed."

Ko has been atop the women's rankings for 73 consecutive weeks, which builds expectations she hopes to fulfil. "There are expectations - because you're the number one ranked players you should play well every day, should be in contention every week," she said. "I would love that and I'm working towards being more consistent week in and week out."

As Ko looked forward to seeing some of the original LPGA founding golfers this week, she pondered men's legend Arnold Palmer, whom she met at last year's Masters. "He was a people's man. No matter his good day or bad days, he was always there to support the fans that came out, the volunteers, his fellow players. That was what made him, him," Ko said.

"Even though he was such an incredible, amazing player, he was so approachable." Ko remarked on how men's players this week at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational wore Palmer's trademark umbrella logo this week.

"I think that's great," Ko said. "I saw that legends never die and I think that's exactly the case for Mr Palmer. He will always be with us even though he's not here anymore."