HOUSTON—At just 25 years old, Jin Young Ko has already accomplished a lot in her career. In only two-plus years on the LPGA, she’s won a half-dozen titles, including two majors, captured last season’s money title and Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average on her way to being named player of the year, and has reached No. 1 in the world.
She’s also won 11 times in her career on the LPGA of Korea Tour.
The one tournament that she wants to win the most, though?
It’s the U.S. Women’s Open. There’s a good reason why, and it has nothing to do with it being the next one she’ll play this week at Champions Golf Club.
“When I was 3 years old, I watched the TV on my father’s knee about Se Ri [Pak’s] win,” Ko said on Tuesday. “And then I saw that I want to play golf.”
When Pak won her lone U.S. Women’s Open title in a 20-hole playoff over amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn in 1998, it marked the first of what would be five career major championships for the South Korean. In all, she won 26 times on the LPGA and at age 29 surpassed Karrie Webb as the youngest living player to qualify for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Pak retired following the 2016 season.
As for Ko’s chances of adding to her own legacy this week, she comes into the tournament as one of the favorites, though like a lot of Koreans, she ended up spending most of the year playing the KLPGA because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In six starts on that circuit, she finished in the top 10 four times, including a runner-up at the KB Financial Group Star Championship in mid-October.
Since returning to the United States a couple of weeks ago to begin her run up to the U.S. Women’s Open, her two starts include a fifth at last week’s Volunteers of America Classic.
This week, Ko and the rest of the field will also have to adapt to playing two courses—Cypress Creek and Jack Rabbit— which the USGA is using to accommodate a full field in shorter hours of daylight.
“Cypress is bigger; the greens are big, and then the fairways are narrow.,” Ko said. “So I like Cypress course more because [of] the setup. But I like Jack Rabbit, too. [The] greens are smaller than Cypress, but I think I will play every club in the bag on this course.”
Not that either should be a problem for Ko. She led the LPGA in greens in regulation a year ago and remains one of the sport’s most accurate drivers.
She has also finished in the top 20 in three previous appearances in the U.S. Women’s Open. Now she hopes to join as a champion the countrywoman who inspired her.