Jin Young Ko took nearly a year away from the LPGA Tour and returned with a prohibitive goal to accomplish, even for the No. 1 player in the world. With just three events left to play in the regular season, Ko set out to score enough points to qualify for the LPGA Tour’s season finale, the CME Group Tour Championship, needing, well, a season’s worth in a couple weekends.
Yet not only did she qualify for the Tour Champinship in those three events, she went on and won the CME. By five shots.
Due to the spreading of COVID-19, Ko stayed in her home country of South Korea for the majority of the 2020 LPGA Tour season. She played the LPGA Tour of Korea (KLPGA) while there, not returning to the states until late November.
Any questions as to how her game would stack up against players on the LPGA Tour were quickly answered. She finished T-34 at the Pelican Women’s Championship, then fifth at the Volunteers of America Classic. That left her needing to finish in the top three at the U.S. Women’s Open to get into the CME field. She finished T-2.
Once at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla., Ko stayed close to the lead and the $1.1 million winner’s check, the biggest in women’s golf. She entered the final round one shot behind defending champ Sei Young Kim. But some wayward shots that even Kim’s scrambling couldn’t overcome created space between the two on the leader board.
And then Ko, 25, was relentless on the back nine. She birdied five of the last seven holes to shoot a six-under 66 and win by five over Kim and Hannah Green.
She did so while hitting all but one green in the final round when she wasn’t really feeling her swing.
“I would say my swing is not perfect right now,” Ko said.
While there is comfort from knowing your swing is grooved, Ko said she’s working on letting go of needing her swing to feel perfect to win golf tournaments.
“You don’t have to perfect swing on the course,” Ko said. “Just feel it and your body and your muscle and just keep going.”
Ko had other concerns that helped keep her mind from drifting back to swing mechanics: She wanted to win the $1.1 million so she could buy a house in the U.S.
With the win, she vaulted to the top of the money list for the 2020 season, earning the most of any player ($1.66 million) while only playing four events. The house was a motivating factor during the round. She had been looking at houses online before the round and then thought about it as she played. Friends of hers on tour live in the Dallas area, so she’s spent enough time there to feel comfortable. She just needed the cash to make it happen.
“I had no money in my bank account because I send to Korea all my money,” Ko said, laughing. “So, I needed money for buy the house. But, yeah, I can buy [a] house right now.”
At the end of a season full of questions, Ko taking the big winner’s check was a moment of certainty. She birdied her final hole when she knew she had a four=shot lead, saying her caddie had told her that his former boss, Lorena Ochoa, said professionals finish their rounds. It was a statement birdie, definitively proving she is the No. 1 player in the world.