Jin Young Ko has just completed one of the most dramatic, down-to-the-final-day seasons on the LPGA Tour in a number of years, which has vaulted her to prominence as one of the elite players in the women’s game. All at the age of 26. Here are a few of the highlights:
1. How she played hurt at the CME
Ko won the CME Group Tour Championship, the final event of the season, for the second year in a row, a feat unto itself. But that’s not the remarkable aspect of this victory.
Ko suffered an injured left wrist in May from what she said might have been overwork on the practice range. She played through the pain, which steadily became worse. She said early in the week of the CME that she might have withdrawn, if it wasn’t the last event of the year. Not to mention a first-place check of $1.5 million.
She did not hit a full shot each day during her warmup and didn’t hit a single practice shot after any round all week. She hit a few chips and some putts and headed to the first tee, just as if she were any regular club golfer running late for his or her starting time.
Ko shot 63 in the final round that included a 6-under 30 on the front nine to break out of a four-way tie after 54 holes and run away with the title.
2. Her absurd streak of 63 consecutive greens in regulation
In winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Ko hit her last 63 greens in regulation. In a row. It’s such an astounding ballstriking feat that it’s believed to be unequaled in modern professional golf. The last green she missed was the ninth in Thursday’s first round and from there to the end of the tournament, she made 24 birdies and a bogey, amassing the 23-under-par tournament record. And remember, she had an injured wrist.
On the PGA Tour, that statistic is available since 1992 and since then, Bob Lohr had 51 consecutive GIR in 1993 and Mike Heinen hit 50 greens in a row in 1995. Next best is Jerry Kelly with 48 straight in 1996.
The LPGA Tour has no statistics in that regard, unless we’re starting now. And it already looks unbreakable.
3. She out-dueled Nelly Korda for the POY
It was a two-player race for the LPGA Tour’s top award at the end of the season. Ko narrowly led Nelly Korda with two events on the schedule and Korda took a slim lead with a victory at the Pelican Women’s Championship.
But Ko’s statement victory at the CME won her the Rolex Player of the Year by a mere 14 points over Korda, a margin about as close as it comes. However, it is Ko’s second POY award in three years, having run away with the points race in 2019. Korda was also second that year.
Not that it matters, except to her manager and her accountant, but Ko has now won the LPGA Tour money title for the third straight year. Granted, the 2020 season was abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ko only entered four events. Her money title was earned by the $1.1 million she won at last year’s CME.
4. She finished the season with three wins in four events
Ko won three of her last four starts – the Cognizant Founders Cup, where she won wire-to-wire with an opening 63; the BMW Ladies Championship, with a final-round 64; and the CME. In between, she recorded at T6 at the Pelican Women’s Championship.
However, that doesn’t paint the entire picture of Ko’s last half of the year. All her five victories came since the first of July, when she won the Volunteers of America Classic, and she accomplished that feat in only nine starts.
Her five victories in 2021 are the most in one LPGA Tour season since Ariya Jutanugarn won five in 2016. She now has 12 career LPGA Tour wins and, along with the victories, the stature of being one of the players to most watch in 2022.