Major championships are the measuring stick for greatness in golf, the universally accepted standard for evaluating a career. This year’s last shot to enhance a resume and grow a legacy is at the AIG Women’s British Open, the final LPGA major of 2019, and a bunch of players have a lot on the line.
Whoever stands alone on Sunday evening holding the winner’s trophy will leave Woburn Golf Club forever changed. She will be introduced on the first tee of every tournament the rest of her career as a major champion.
Jin Young Ko, however, stands on the edge of a special place in history. She floated into England off a victory last week at the Evian Championship as the LPGA plays back-to-back majors with no time off in between for the first time since 1960.
Having also won the ANA Inspiration, Ko has a chance to join Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley, Tiger Woods and Inbee Park as the only players to win three majors in a season.
“If I win again this week, it is really a great honor to my family,” Ko said at Woburn. “If I win this week, it's the second Korean player [to win three majors in a year]. It would be a great honor [to join Inbee Park].”
Ko says her game took a leap forward this year because she got longer off the tee and that her work with short-game coach Gareth Raflewski has paid off. She also says her mental focus has improved.
“I'm not a robot, I'm human, especially on the course,” Ko says. “If I miss a shot, I can because I'm human, so just accept it, and think how can I [make up for it],” she says. “Like how can I make a par, or better, how can I make birdie.”
Ko is part of a three-year run of winners of the Rolex Rookie of the Year that might be the best in nearly 50 years. The young talent on the LPGA is simply remarkable. The average age of the Rolex Ranking top 10 is 23.5 with Inbee Park, 31, the only one over the age of 25.
Jin Young, the runaway Rolex Rookie of the Year in 2018, enters the AIG as No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. No. 2 Sung Hyun Park was the top rookie in 2017. And this year’s runaway leader for ROY, Jeongenu Lee6 is No. 8.
You have to go back to 1969 to find three consecutive ROY winners this impressive. Jane Blalock won in ’69 followed by JoAnne Carner and Sally Little.
With her U.S. Women’s Open victory, Lee6 has a chance to catch Ko for the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award if she wins this week and Ko finishes worse than sixth. She can also become the first woman to win the U.S. Women’s Open and British Open in the same year since it became a major in 2001.
“After winning the U.S. Open, the next tournament was ShopRite, and a lot of people came, and they called me ‘6’ and they were all cheering for me, and so I felt more confident,” said Lee6, who is playing her first Women’s British Open.
While Ko is trying to match Inbee Park with her third major victory of the year, Sung Hyun Park is trying to match a feat also last accomplished by Inbee – win at least one major for three consecutive years. Inbee did it 2013-15.
Meanwhile Lexi Thompson, at No. 3 the highest American in the Rolex Rankings, arrived in England later than she planned because she misplaced her passport. She along with the Korda sisters – Jessica and Nelly – are the leading contenders among the Yanks.
Not since 2012, the year before Evian was added as the fifth major, have Americans been shutout in the majors. But with Hannah Green of Australia winning the KPMG Women’s PGA, that prospect looms this week.
“I don't really think about that too much,” Thompson said about being the top American. “We're all out here just to try and do our best. I've been fortunate enough I've been playing pretty well. It's gotten me to that ranking. But something I just really don't focus on.”
Thompson, one of the longest hitters on tour, is among those happy Woburn is playing 293 yards longer than it did when Ariya Jutanugarn won in 2016 by three strokes over Mirim Lee and Mo Martin, one of the shortest hitters on tour.
“It played a lot different in '16,” Thompson said. “It was a lot firmer. They've moved a few tee boxes back, so a little bit more added yardage on this golf course, which is good.”
History will be made at Woburn this week. That’s what majors are all about. But there is more on the line for some than for others. For everyone, the AIG Women’s British Open is the last chance this year of forever be introduced as a major champion.