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Practice makes perfect as Ko Jin-young returns to No. 1 ranking in women's golf

All News 18:03 October 24, 2021

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- Ko Jin-young went into the Tokyo Olympic women's golf tournament in early August as a strong medal contender for South Korea. Instead, she finished tied for ninth and watched American star Nelly Korda, who had dethroned Ko as world No. 1 in June, capture the gold medal.

Ko went back to the drawing board. She even skipped the season's final major, AIG Women's Open in Scotland, to rebuild her swing in South Korea.

In this AFP photo, Ko Jin-young of South Korea tees off at the fourth hole during the final round of the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in Busan, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Oct. 24, 2021. (Yonhap)

Some two months later, it's abundantly clear the work has paid off. Ko has won three times in her five tournaments since the Olympics, with the most recent title coming Sunday on home soil at the BMW Ladies Championship.

Ko, who defeated countrywoman Lim Hee-jeong in the playoff Sunday, will now reclaim the top spot in the next women's rankings, with Korda having skipped the only LPGA event in South Korea. Ko is also the new leader in the LPGA Player of the Year points race, pulling Korda down from first place with two tournaments to go.

Ko began the final round four strokes behind Lim at 14-under and erased that with a bogey-free round of 64 to enter a playoff for the first time in her career. She won the sudden-death affair on the first try with a birdie.

And to think: Ko feels she still has room for improvement.

"I try to be perfect in all facets of my game and try to give my absolute best at every tournament," Ko said at her press conference. "I have to figure out areas where I need to improve and keep working."

Ko said nothing went right for her at the Olympics and she wasn't happy with any of her four rounds in Japan. She felt so compelled to fix her game that she was willing to forego a major tournament.

In this AFP photo, Ko Jin-young of South Korea kisses the champion's trophy after winning the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in Busan, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Oct. 24, 2021. (Yonhap)

Ko said she trained like she had done as a junior golfer.

"When I was younger, there were times when I thought to myself, 'I might die if I keep practicing like this,'" Ko said. "And I think you sometimes need to have that sort of an approach, even as a pro. I find preparing for tournaments is a lot tougher than actually playing at them, but it's also fun. It's extremely rewarding to see myself get better every day, and that's what keeps fueling me."

Ko first climbed to No. 1 in 2019, a year in which she won four tournaments, including two majors, and also earned the Player of the Year honor. She also spent the entire 2020 season perched at the top before Korda replaced her in June this year.

Ko said returning to No. 1 wasn't an end goal in and of itself.

"I've felt all along that I could always get back to the top as long as I play well," Ko said. "I've been playing well recently, and so I figured I could probably reach No. 1 again sometime before the end of this year. I didn't think I'd do it so quickly. I will try my best to stay there."

Before running into swing problems midseason, Ko also had some trying personal moments earlier in the year.

Ko's grandmother passed away in March, but Ko wasn't able to fly back home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. She was also preparing for her first major of the season, ANA Inspiration, in California.

"I slept maybe three or four hours a night during ANA, because I was crying so much every night," Ko recalled. "I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing, playing golf in the U.S. instead of spending time with my family back home. But I believed time would heal everything and kept at it. I got to pay my respects after playing in Singapore in April, and I rediscovered meaning and passion in golf again."

In this AFP photo, Ko Jin-young of South Korea tees off at the fifth hole during the final round of the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in Busan, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Oct. 24, 2021. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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