There’s way more to being the top-ranked golfer than practicing hard, showing up for your tee time, regularly pummeling your opponents into submission and regaling the media with tales from inside the ropes.
Just ask Lydia Ko.
In one of her rare golf-free interludes at the end of last season, Ko got up close and personal with some creepy crawly creatures from the black lagoon. Actually, the gators and snakes were from the swamps of Central Florida (via Vice Sports and Callaway Golf), but it was not exactly the typical day of an 18-year-old — even if said teenager is the youngest golfer to ascend to No. 1 in the world.
This week, Ko returns to the much more familiar and comfortable confines of Singapore’s Sentosa Golf Club, where she came in second last year to Inbee Park and, come Thursday, she will do battle with the best of the best at the HSBC Women’s Champions with the first major of the season looming at the end of the month.
A robust field that includes nine other top-10 players, including world No. 2 Park, and last week’s winner and newly installed No. 3 Lexi Thompson, will take aim at Ko’s ranking crown even as they keep their heads down.
"I'm just trying to focus on my own game, not anybody else’s," Thompson, the "youngest ever" to win on tour before Ko came along, told reporters after her six-stroke run-away victory on Sunday at the Honda LPGA Thailand.
With her convincing triumph, Thompson leapfrogged an ever-gracious Stacy Lewis in the Rolex Rankings.
Congrats @Lexi! Take that to world #1!— Stacy Lewis (@Stacy_Lewis) February 28, 2016
"It’s a very big deal to be a top American in the world," Thompson, 21, acknowledged. "It’s a huge honor because I'm not only playing for myself, I'm playing for my country being an American."
Ko and the rest of those on tour have no doubt taken notice that the work Thompson put in during the offseason on her short game as well as the mental aspect of her play paid off big time in Thailand. Those elements, combined with a tour-leading 290-yard average off the tee, make the 21-year-old a favorite entering every tournament.
"Just overall my outlook on life being more positive and realizing that golf isn’t my life," said Thompson. "Just coming out here, not getting so mad at bad shots. I still get frustrated. I’m human. But that’s the way I get even, and I just try to go into the next shot with a positive attitude. … Just keeping my nerves under control with the breathing … helped dramatically."
While Thompson is fresh from her seventh tour W, Ko returns to pre-major competition after a week off after launching her 2016 season with top-three finishes in two LPGA events and a title defense at the New Zealand Women’s Open.
Park, for her part, has gotten off to a rocky start this year. After a withdrawal from the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic with a back injury that forced her to miss the Coates Golf Challenge, she notched a T30 in Thailand.
But the former world No. 1 is not far removed from a five-win 2015 campaign that included two of her seven career major titles.
"I just came back to competition after about of month of break after having a back injury," Park told reporters on Wednesday. "I feel like I'm definitely in better shape than I was last week or a month ago. It's just getting better and better, but I just don't want to rush for anything."
The game — the first of three events leading up to the ANA Inspiration on March 31 — is certainly on.