Just like that, Jin Young Ko has gone from 2018 Rolex Rookie of the Year to the brink of history. When she added the Evian Championship on Sunday to the ANA Inspiration title she won in April, Ko positioned herself to walk with legends this week at the AIG Women’s British Open.
There have only been a half-dozen players win three professional majors in a season – men or women – and they are all greats of the game: Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley, Tiger Woods and Inbee Park. Ko can join them this week at Woburn Golf Club in England.
Ko’s sensational finish at the Evian Resort Golf Club, where she played the last six holes two under par to beat Jennifer Kupcho, Shanshan Feng and Hyo Joo Kim by two strokes, was an epic display of control. She missed one fairway and one green, made putts when she needed and controlled her emotions.
“It's a really great honor to [win a] second major of the year,” Ko said Sunday at Evian Resort Golf Club. “Really I can't believe about how can I. Oh, my God. Looking forward next week, so thank you.”
Ko, the runaway Rolex Rookie of the Year in 2018, has been nothing short of sensational this year. Not only has she won three times, with two majors, but she’s been in the top-30 in each of the 15 LPGA events she's played with eight top-five finishes and three seconds to go along with three wins.
“I played not perfect, but a little bit perfect,” she said with a smile. “So I was happy. I tried [to be] patient on the course. Weather was bad, raining, and then sometimes thunder, so I thought this is same condition as other players, so I will try make a birdie.”
While Ko says part of the improvement in her game is that she’s gotten longer off the tee, she also says a larger part might be her focus. “I think my mental game is getting stronger on the course,” she said.
While Ko holds her emotions close to the vest, the lavish celebration of her victory at Evian, which included the flag of South Korea and its national anthem, made her realize how important she is to her homeland.
“I'm really proud of Korea,” she said. “I tried never to cry again, because ANA I was cried so much. So this week I try just smiling, but I heard about my national song and then I couldn't keep it, hold it. Yeah, that's why I'm cried a little bit.”
Ko began the season with modest goals but now she has loftier ambitions. With this victory she reclaimed No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings and has a firm control on both the Rolex Player of the Year and the Rolex ANNIKA Major Achievement award as well as the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.
Jeongeun Lee6 at the U.S. Women’s Open and Hannah Green at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship won the other two majors. They have the best chance of catching Ko in any of the awards if one of them wins this week at the AIG.
“My goal was always [to finish in] the top 20 of the season, so that's pretty good now,” Ko said. “I just try to think about getting better [and not] the world No. 1 ranking, so I will find always motivation for my golf on the course.”
All Ko does well is everything. She is top 60 in the LPGA in driving distance but 10 in hitting fairways, first in greens in regulation, tenth in putts per GIR and first in scoring. She is also right up there in emotional control and determination.
After winning the ANA, Ko apologized for needing an interpreter for her media interview but said when she won again she wouldn’t need one. She likely didn’t know that interview would be this soon.
“Korean players is little difficult learning English because they have to play golf but also have to learn English,” she said without an interpreter. “That is real hard.”
Her progress from ANA to now is astonishing, both as a player and in her comfort with English. The one person she can communicate with perfectly in English is her caddie, Dave Brooker, who won his fifth major on Sunday – two with Ko and two with Loren Ochoa.
“So I had third shot on No. 18,” Ko said. “After shot he told me, ‘Okay, you know your position now?’ No, I don't know. So he said, ‘If you make a par you win. If you three-putt, still you win. But you're a professional, so you have to make a two-putt.’”
Which is exactly what she did.
If you are looking for a word to describe Ko that word would be balance. Her swing is in balance and her attitude is in balance.
“Life is happiness because life is a gift to me from God,” she said. “So really great honor to the God. If I make a bogey or double bogey, it is glory, so I want to thank God. That's what makes me happy.”
Golf is an unfair game. Ko saw that Sunday when her friend Hyo Joo Kim drew two horrible lies in a bunker on No. 14 which likely cost her the tournament.
But she also knows that the key to surviving golf is accepting what happens and moving on. That’s why she goes to the AIG Women’s British Open with a chance to make history.