9 reasons why Jin Young Ko is golf’s hottest player
Jin Young Ko, since the start of July, has played six LPGA tournaments — and won half of them. Over her past four events, she has finished no worse than a tie for sixth. Ko, on Sunday at the Cognizant Founders Cup, won by four shots — and by seven over the third-place finisher — keeping her in possession of the prestigious title for some 900 days. (She won in 2019, and the 2020 tournament was canceled.)
Oh, and those rounds of 63, 68, 69 and 66 she shot this weekend at Mountain Ridge Country Club in New Jersey? Those followed rounds of 66, 65 and 69 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. And rounds of 68, 66 and 67 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. And rounds of 69, 67 and 69 at the Cambia Portland Classic. And a final-round 69 at the Evian Championship. Put that all together, and that’s a whopping 14 straight rounds under 70 — tying the single-season mark set by the legendary Annika Sorenstam in 2005.
Summed up in a word, it’s wow.
But, in a question, one you, me and any person ever to put ball to tee would no doubt like to know, it’s this:
How has Ko vaulted herself into the conversation for player of the year alongside Nelly Korda? How do you not think she’ll close out the season in similar style? (The next event, the BMW Ladies Championship in two weeks, is in her home country of South Korea, and the season finishes next month with two events in Florida.) How has she become the hottest player on the planet? All good questions, and, yes, the simple explanation is this: She’s just good, man!
But in an enlightening interview after the Founders, Ko peeled back the curtain a bit more. Let’s listen in:
Ko skipped a major ahead of this run
Ko tied for 60th at the Evian in late July, the LPGA’s fourth major of the season, tied for ninth at the Olympic golf competition at the start of August, then didn’t play on the LPGA Tour until the Portland event over a month later. Though she missed just two events — the Solheim Cup, which she is ineligible for, was also played during that time — one was the season’s last major, the AIG Women’s Open.
Her reason? With a South Korean team made up of, at the time, four of the top five players in the world, playing in the Olympics was not unlike playing for an all-star team.
“Yeah, I needed to rest after the Olympics because I got a lot of pressure before the Olympics because, you know, the Korean team is really difficult to get in the Olympics,” Ko said. “So I had a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and I changed the swing coach after the Olympics so I need to fix something of my swing and putting.
“So I skipped the major, AIG, major tournament, and I was really sad. I really wanted to play the British Open because I love to play the British, but I need to take time with my swing coach and with this new putter.”
Ko made a swing adjustment
Before Portland, Ko said she made one “basic” adjustment to her swing:
“Just keep my spine — or just don’t move to right to left.”
“So you were kind of swaying a little bit?” she was asked.
“Yeah, before the Olympics. Yeah,” Ko said.
Ko made a club change, too
Ko did make one notable equipment move. About a month and a half ago, she said, she switched to a Scotty Cameron Phantom X 5.5, began using it last month during her win at Portland — and it won’t be leaving the bag for a while.
“I think I love this putter,” she said.
What made her pick it?
“I don’t know,” Ko said. “Just, well, I went to the Titleist shop when I was staying in Korea and I found the putter and I tried it and I said, can I get this, and they said, yeah, go for it. So I got this one, and I used this putter from four weeks ago to this week.”
Ko’s parents were with her
Watching Ko were her mom, Mi Kyung Kim, and her dad, Sung Tae Ko. In a story for the LPGA Tour’s website in 2020, the younger Ko wrote: “I am a little different from most of the LPGA Tour players who come from Korea in that neither my parents nor my grandparents got me into golf.
“My father, Sung Tae Ko, was a boxer earlier in his life. And while my mother, Mi Kyung Kim, started golf as an adult, she did not take me with her to the course or the range. It wasn’t until I was in grade school that my father and I watched a replay of Se Ri Pak winning the U.S. Women’s Open and I said, ‘I think I would like to try that.’ So, my father and I hit our first golf shots on the same day.”
Ko ‘loved’ being the leader
Ko led from the get-go at the Founders. Afterward, she was asked: “Do you feel more confident in those situations rather than when you have to chase the leader?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Ko said. “I love to — the other players follow me and I was on top and I had to focus more than the other players, so I love that.”
Ko never checked the scoreboard
As her lead swelled last week, she said her caddie asked her on 18 if she knew.
She did only then.
“I just tried to focus on my body and my swing,” Ko said. “I don’t want to look at the scoreboard and the other players.
“Yeah, I’m just talking to myself on the course.”
‘I’m just trying to have fun’
Ko tied Sorenstam’s 60’s record. Her victory on Sunday was her 10th overall, tying the 26-year-old for 54th on the all-time list. Two years ago, she played 114 holes without a bogey, bettering Tiger Woods’ mark of 110. After her win on Sunday, she was asked: What does it mean to you?
“I don’t know,” Ko said. “I just play — I just focus by myself. The other, like Tiger’s or Annika Sorenstam, I just play by myself and with those amazing professional girls. I don’t know what happened to me. [She laughed.]
“I don’t know. I just have fun. I’m just trying to have fun on the course with my caddie and the other players. Yeah.”
Naps and Netflix
Ko was seven feet from a potential third win over her past four tournaments. But after missing a birdie putt from that distance on the final hole at the ShopRite and finishing one shot behind winner Celine Boutier, she unplugged. And turned on Netflix.
“Like, I felt a little sad on Sunday, so I didn’t want to, like, bring ShopRite to here,” Ko said on Thursday. “I just like — I need to refresh my mind and for the golf as well, and I didn’t practice much before the tournament.
“I had just naps and watched Netflix. Yeah, nothing.”
Can’t beat that.
“Yes,” Ko said.
Cookies and brownies and corned beef and turkey and salad
In her final words on Sunday, Ko thanked Cognizant, the Founders sponsor. And … the chef at Mountain Ridge.
Apparently, the club has more than just hot dogs and chips. Winning was sweet, and so was the food.
“Yeah, the food was amazing,” Ko said. “I had a lot of cookies this week. [She laughed.] And brownies as well. And I love to eat corned beef. I had a lot of beef and turkey this week. Like salad was really good.
“I’m hungry right now.”