GALLOWAY, N.J. – Lydia Ko last competed in the ShopRite LPGA Classic as a 17-year-old in 2014, the year she became the youngest player in LPGA history to win rookie of the year honors.
Since then, she has won 11 times on tour, including two majors before her 19th birthday; had been ranked world No. 1 for 104 weeks (third all-time) in 2015, 2016 and 2017; captured the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics; and legally became able to buy a drink in New Jersey after turning 21 in late April.
After a three-year absence, she's now back on the Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club preparing for the 54-hole ShopRite tournament beginning Friday.
For Ko, of New Zealand, the event fit into her schedule this year — the second of a six-week stretch of competition that includes two majors: last week's U.S. Women's Open and the KPMG Women's PGA Championship later this month.
"As a player, you have to look at your schedule and see what tournaments you know you can play," Ko said Thursday after her Pro-Am round. "I'm sure people would like to play more but it's just so tiring.
"You just have to play around with it. This time of the year is the busiest time for us because of the majors pretty much being during these few months, so you have to see the travel and logistics. Some players have outings and all that to do. You just have to see what fits best in your schedule."
Ko's last week at No. 1 in the world ended one week after the conclusion of the 2017 ShopRite. After going through the first winless season of her career last year, she broke a run of 44 consecutive events without a victory in April at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.
Ko, now ranked 15th, didn't equate the win to a weight being lifted off her shoulders.
"It didn't feel like it was that long ago since my last win," she said. "Even last year, I think I had three second-place finishes, so I knew I was playing solid. So you just have to be patient with it."
After two trips around Seaview this week, Ko said she remembers "pretty much a majority of the golf course." She said that playing the layout's three par-5's "are going to be a really huge key, especially with a wind direction like today."
"I think a majority of the players will be able to reach a lot of the par-5's, so that could lead to eagles and birdies," she said.
Defending champion I.K. Kim is rebounding from a slow start to her year, a struggle that began in January when her clubs were lost on a cross-country flight. Even though some of the clubs were found two months later in a California sporting goods store, she now has a new set that she's still getting used to.
"I think I can be a club fitter now," she said with a smile. "Everything can be worse because my clubs were 2, 3 years old anyway. I do have a good set. It just takes time to build good memories in it so that's what I've been doing."
Mays Landing native Joanna Coe and Yardley resident Jackie Rogowicz earned spots in the ShopRite LPGA Classic field by finishing 1-2 in Monday qualifying.