Jin Young Ko looks to bring a life in golf full circle this week in Texas. Alex Perry chatted to the World No 1
It tells you everything you need to know about just how dominant Jin Young Ko was on the LPGA Tour in 2019 that no one could shift her from the World No 1 spot this year despite the fact she didn’t tee up in the US until two weeks ago.
Ko won her third LPGA title, the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, in March last year to spark a remarkable run that saw her win two majors in under four months as well as the CP Women’s Open. That form took her to the summit of the Rolex Rankings, a position she is yet to relinquish.
When the pandemic struck, Ko decided to ride it out in her native South Korea, playing in a handful of KLPGA events instead, a decision that meant missing out on her title defence at the ANA Inspiration. (The Evian Championship was cancelled so she’ll hold onto that particular crown for another year.)
But she returned across the Pacific to play in the Pelican Women’s Championship, where she tied for 34th, before a 5th-place finish at last week’s Volunteers of America Classic.
So why now?
“As a kid, I watched the US Women’s Open every year,” Ko tells NCG in a brief email exchange. “I really want that trophy.”
I ask what it is about the US Women’s Open, which is taking place at Champions Golf Club in Texas this week, that particularly appeals.
“The trophy sparkled so brightly,” she replies. “It seems so impressively heavy even when being held with two hands.”
It’s a great answer, perhaps the best I’ve ever had in all my years as a journalist, though one I didn’t quite expect. I think something may have got lost in the translation. “Language is always something that needs continuous studying,” she jokes, before explaining that the US Women’s Open holds a special place in her reason to take up this beautiful game.
“When I was in [primary] school I watched coverage of Se Ri Pak’s win [from 1998] and I thought I would like to try. My father and I hit our first golf shots on the same day.”
While Ko’s father, a former professional boxer, wasn’t able to give her advice on being a golfer, he could help the other side of her game.
“He explained to me that stamina is the key to success,” she recalls.
“It is difficult for Korean juniors to alternate between golf and school life. Parents watch you practice and are with you 24/7, which is great because you can focus on golf. But the pressure is also more intense.
“I dealt with stress by reading. As I read about situations I didn’t know much about before, I was able to experience them and learn from them. Looking back now, I am quite thankful for that.”
It certainly worked for Ko. She turned professional at 18 and within four years had 10 KLPGA wins under her belt. Then came the move to the US. where she was named Rookie of the Year followed by the Player of the Year 12 months later. “I had matured enough,” she says of the decision to leave Seoul. And how.
But Ko has never been interested in fame and fortune. She gives a huge chunk of her winnings to charity each year, and in a blog for the LPGA website in May, she wrote: “I thought I would play for 10 years, retire when I was 28, and settle down to start a family. Now I can’t imagine leaving golf.”
So grounded is Ko that in her final email of our exchange, she explains: “I believe that the public is interested in me only because I am doing my job well.”
A win in Texas this week might see her come full circle from a wide-eyed child watching her compatriot win the US Women’s Open to actually lifting the trophy herself, but there’s plenty more to come from our reigning World No 1 yet.
Jin Young Ko at the US Women’s Open
2017: T15 at -2 (73-72-70-71)
2018: T17 at +1 (75-73-71-70)
2019: T16 at E (72-70-69-73)
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Jin Young Ko was talking to NCG as an ambassador for LG Signature, the first ultra-premium brand across multiple product categories from global innovator LG Electronics. Visit the LG Signature website for more.