Jin Young Ko didn’t play much golf on the LPGA Tour this year. But when she did, she sure made it count — particularly on Sunday, when she blitzed the field at the CME Group Tour Championship to secure the biggest prize in the women’s game.
Early in the back nine, the CME title was wholly up in the air. Ko and Sei Young Kim were knotted at the top, with big-time names like Lexi Thompson and Georgia Hall lurking within two shots. Then Ko turned on the afterburners, making birdie at 12, 13, 14 and 16 to open up a four-stroke advantage. She added a birdie at 18 for good measure to secure that $1.1 million first prize.
After the golf world shut down due to the coronavirus, LPGA Tour players took a variety of approaches to returning to play. Ko, the world No. 1, stayed in her native Korea. She made six starts on the Korean LPGA, including four top-10s, before she came to the United States a month ago to play in the Pelican Women’s Championship.
She finished T34 there — and then things got increasingly better. Two weeks later, Ko finished T5 at the Volunteers of America Classic. A week after that she nearly crashed A Lim Kim’s party at the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing T2 to secure her place in the tour’s final event of the year. This week she took full advantage.
Ko posted rounds of 68-67-69-66, five strokes clear of Sei Young Ko and Hannah Green, who finished at 13 under. They each earned $209,555. Mina Harigae finished solo 4th at 12 under, while Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko finished T5 at 11 under.
“I still can’t believe I’m here and that I won this tournament,” Ko said afterwards in disbelief. She was unimpressed with her swing — “not perfect right now,” she said — but made it work to the tune of seven birdies and a bogey.
“A swing is just a swing. You don’t have to perfect your swing on the course, just feel it in your body and your muscles, and keep going.”
With the share of second, Sei Young Kim secured the Rolex Player of the Year award and strengthened her grip on the No. 2 spot in the world rankings.
“I want to say sorry to [Sei Young Kim],” Ko said of her friend and competitor. “She played really good but I was a little better, so I won. It was a great competition.”
As for that $1.1 million? Ko has immediate plans to put it to good use. She’s been looking for a house in Frisco, Tex., near good friend M.J. Hur. She had a very tangible goal on Sunday: earn herself that house. Some players would try to block that out while under the gun, but Ko leaned into it.
Did she allow herself to think of the house on the course?
“Mm-hmm,” she said, nodding with a smile.
Whatever the motivation, it clearly worked.