The production line of successful Korean players on the LPGA Tour has been in overdrive for the past two decades, ever since Se Ri Pak blazed a trail for her peers to follow, and you can now ink in the name of Jin Young Ko as the latest very special addition to that run.
Ko, who is perhaps best known for her runner-up spot at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open, clinched her first LPGA Tour victory at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship last month as a non-member and this week she decided to take up LPGA Tour membership for the 2018 season.
Widely regarded as one of the best iron players in the game, the straight-hitting Ko is near-certain to be a major factor next year as she vies with the very best in the women's golf week-in and week-out.
"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage," Ko told LPGA.com via email. "I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."
A 10-time winner on the KLPGA Tour, Ko made a huge splash at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry where she lost a three-stroke lead on the back nine during the final round before finishing runner-up to Inbee Park. The golf world took notice of a very special talent that week, but the Korean preferred to remain on her home KLPGA Tour for the next two years as she continued to hone her skills.
While two of her former rivals on the KLPGA, Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun, transitioned to the LPGA Tour with great success during that period, Ko remained in Korea and became a dominant figure as she chalked up win after win.
CASE IN POINT
Her 2017 season has been a case in point. She made 19 cuts in 21 starts as she piled up earnings of 743,181,423 Korean won, highlighted by three victories and 10 additional top-10 finishes.
"Her iron play is unbelievable and she drives the ball well," Dean Herden, her Australian caddie, told LPGA.com. "She is leading the ball-striking stats in Korea, in both driving and greens in regulation. Jin Young can flat out play, day in and day out, for four days. And she is a great person to be around."
Herden, who has chalked up 50 career wins as a caddie on the LPGA, PGA, KLPGA, JPGA and JLPGA tours, has been working with Ko for just over two years and the pair have developed an excellent relationship.
"I think we are a great fit for each other," said Ko. "I have to say he can be very, very objective. He's unwavering in any situation, and he really keeps you grounded and makes you look at reality. Sometimes he's kind of scary, but I think we're really a great fit."
Ko claimed her first victory on the LPGA Tour last month in front of her home fans, overcoming a nervous start before holding off the formidable challenge of Rolex Rankings World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park to triumph by two shots on the undulating Ocean Course at SKY72 Golf & Resort at Incheon.
That breakthrough win gave her two routes to join the LPGA Tour with Priority List Category 7 membership status: either for the rest of the 2017 season and also for next year, or to delay her move until the start of the 2018 season, a decision that had to be made by 5 p.m. ET on Monday this week.
Ko decided to go for the latter option, so she will be a rookie for her 2018 campaign – and the LPGA Tour can only benefit from her addition.