She looks the same. Smiles a lot. Still quick with a laugh. And she still is the No. 1 player in the world.
But this is not the same Lydia Ko who won last year’s ANA Inspiration, taking the LPGA tour’s first major of the season with a spectacular kick-in birdie on the 72nd hole to win by one.
No, there’s something different about Ko this year as she begins defense of that major title Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., against the likes of fellow major winners Ariya Jutanugarn, Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng, Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.
Make that a lot of something different.
The winner of two majors and 19 pro worldwide titles — that’s one for every year she’s lived — has a new coach, a new swing, a new caddie and new equipment. Yes, the winner of four tournaments last year, the No. 1 player in the world, went all Autobot with her transformation the past offseason.
“I know some people have concerns with all the changes at the same time,” Ko said in a phone call. “It was just a coincidence that I changed everything at the same time. I wasn’t planning on it. They just happened. I wanted to see what would be better for my game going forward. I’m not just looking to see what happens right now but I’m looking at the future. …
“I’ve been more excited than worried. I wanted to learn more about my swing, to understand it, so in the future I can fix something if it needs fixing. No matter what ranked player you are, there is always something you can get better at. These are positive changes.”
The changes, however, haven’t taken hold just yet. After winning four times in the first seven months of last year, she hasn’t added to her victory total, a winless span that seems like an…