NAPLES, FLORIDA | Even in the celebration, there was a tinge of the perfectionist coming through. Jin Young Ko walked off the final green at Tiburón Golf Club having just shot 71 to finish tied for 11th in the CME Group Tour Championship. In the process, she captured the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average of the season and the LPGA Official Money Title. And the first thing she said was, “I didn’t putt very well today. I need to work on that.”
All the greats have a little bit of “never good enough,” in them. Ben Hogan, arguably the greatest ball striker in history, used to claim that he was lucky to hit four shots in a round the way he wanted. And Bobby Jones used to grouse about the shots he missed after winning major championships, saying there was no such thing as a perfect round of golf.
The same is true outside of golf. Vince Lombardi never enjoyed a win more than one day. By Monday night, when he entertained friends in his family basement, he was grinding his teeth, worrying about the next opponent. Watch Alabama coach Nick Saban after a championship win and you can tell that anything less than perfect rubs him raw.
Go look at old clips of Jack Nicklaus. He could be winning by 10 and still grimace when he missed a putt. Arnold Palmer looked like he’d been punched in the kidneys when he didn’t pull of the shot he wanted, no matter how big his lead.
By those standards, Ko is a happy warrior, a smiling, gracious champion who marched back out to the 18th green an hour after finishing her final round to accept the Vare Trophy. There she thanked Terry Duffy, CME Group, the LPGA Tour and everyone in attendance.
She finished the year with the second-lowest scoring average in LPGA history. But Ko was already looking forward to hitting a few putts when she arrived home in the Republic of Korea next week.
“My play today was not good,” she said Sunday. “I will work harder and more.”
She had every excuse to put the game on cruise control. After the front nine on Sunday, there was no question she had swept the awards. Ko already won Rolex LPGA Player of the Year and the Rolex Annika Major Award. She would have had to finish worse than 24th at the CME Group Tour Championship to lose the money title. And the Vare Trophy was a foregone conclusion by the time she got her first tee shot of the weekend in the air. Plus, she had a bum left ankle. During a practice swing at the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA, she strained it in a way that forced her to withdraw. Since then, she has soaked it, stretched it, taped it and worried about it.
“Not sure,” she said when asked how the ankle was holding up. “Right now, it's getting better.” But she worries that the cold Korean air might re-aggravate it.
That’s why she is looking forward to a little rest. After she rolls a few more putts. Not too many, just enough to recharge for the next campaign.
“Rest a few weeks and then I will practice again,” she said, the look of determination etched on her face.
She won’t be perfect in 2020. No one in the game ever has been. But it won’t be for a lack of trying.