Ko Jin-young overcomes injury, personal ordeal in outstanding 2021 LPGA season

November 22, 2021

- With a brilliant performance at the final tournament of the 2021 LPGA season that helped her bag the top individual honor, South Korean star Ko Jin-young showed once again who’s boss.

Ko defended her CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, on Sunday (local time), powered by a bogey-free final round of nine-under 63 that took her to 23-under 265 for the tournament. She needed every one of her nine birdies on Sunday, as Nasa Hataoka of Japan finished one stroke back in second place.

With her fifth win of 2021, Ko also claimed her second career Player of the Year award — her first was 2019 — and her third consecutive money title. For both honors, Ko raced past Nelly Korda of the United States on Sunday.

Korda, who had been tied with Ko for the CME lead at 14-under through 54 holes, shot a 69 in the final round to finish tied for fifth.

The first half of this season clearly belonged to Korda, who won three tournaments, including her first career major, and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo to boot. But Ko reigned supreme the rest of the way.

Four of Ko’s five victories came after the Tokyo Olympics. Ko had been regarded as a strong medal contender but instead finished tied for ninth and watched Korda standing at the top of the podium.

Ko went back to the drawing board to rebuild her swing, and returned to play some of her best golf.

Ko didn’t finish outside the top 10 over her final seven tournaments of the season, winning four times, finishing second once and tying for sixth twice.

“Nelly played really well, and she had a great year. She won a gold medal and won a major tournament,” Ko said of Korda at her press conference following Sunday’s win. “But I was a little luckier than her, so I got the Player of the Year this year. It’s really tough to get the Player of the Year, especially this year with Nelly (playing well). I am so proud of myself.”

Remarkably, despite pains in her left wrist that had been lingering since May, Ko hit every green and every fairway Sunday. She didn’t miss any green over her final three rounds and missed only five fairways out of 56 at the tournament.

“I was hitting straight the last four days, and, well, it’s ridiculous, I think,” Ko said. “I didn’t practice at all for this week before the tee off, even Monday or Tuesday, but I still played really well this week.”

In October, Ko had her LPGA record-tying streak of 14 rounds in the 60s snapped. That happened with an opening round of 71 at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea, which she ended up winning in a playoff. Since then, Ko has scored in the 60s in 11 consecutive rounds.

In the prime of her career at 26, Ko also finds herself firmly on a Hall of Fame track.

To be eligible for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, a player must have been an active tour member for 10 years and must have earned 27 points while winning at least one of the following: a major championship, the Vare Trophy for the scoring title or the Player of the Year Award. A tournament win is worth one point, and a major title is good for two points. The Vare Trophy and the Player of the Year honor are worth one point each.

Ko has accumulated 17 points through four seasons: 10 points from her 10 regular tournament wins, four points from two majors, three from her two Player of the Year awards and one Vare Trophy.

Working on her golf swing may have been an easy part for Ko, who had to pick herself up after the passing of her grandmother in March this year.

Ko previously talked about struggling to find a sense of purpose and motivation after losing her grandmother, who Ko said called her after each round to offer her review.

Ko also admitted to wondering if playing golf in the United States meant anything to her when she wasn’t able to spend time with her family in South Korea. Ko belatedly got to pay her proper respects in April and rediscovered her passion for golf.

Ko said Sunday winning the Player of the Year this time was “sweeter” than in 2019 because of what she has gone through in 2021.

“I was really sad earlier this year, and I didn’t think I could win again,” Ko recalled. “I did win five times this year. It’s sweeter than 2019.”

Asked what her grandmother would have said after this victory, Ko said with a smile, “I think she’d be crying. I think she’d say, ‘Your putter was good.’”

Would she also have commented on Ko’s ball striking?

“No. She knows putting is important in golf,” Ko said, laughing.