There was no Sophomore Slump for Jin Young Ko. The 24-year-old Korean who was runaway Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year in 2018 on Sunday clinched the 2019 Rolex Player of the Year with three tournaments remaining, becoming only the fourth LPGA player to win the honors in consecutive years.
Ko, who has four wins this year, including the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship, secured POY with a T-9 finish at the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in Korea, mathematically eliminating Jeongeun Lee6, who won the U.S. Women’s Open this year.
“The season is not over, and I tend to set my goals on a weekly basis, so I have not thought about my goals for the next season,” Ko said. “But I do know that I want to be more grateful next year, and I want to be a better player obviously, but I also want to be able to spread the gratitude. For instance, I would like to take part in more charity events and donations and so forth.”
The only others to win POY the year after they were ROY were Nancy Lopez in 1979, Annika Sorenstam in 1995 and Lydia Ko in 2015. Lopez and Sorenstam are both in the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame
And this is likely not the end of the honors for Ko in 2019. She leads in the race for the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, is No. 1 on the LPGA’s official money list, leads in Race to the CME Globe points and is No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings.
Ko’s scoring average of 68.933 flirts with the all-time scoring mark of 68.6970 set by Sorenstam in 2004. Ko’s scoring average would be third-best all-time with Sorenstam possessing the three lowest averages at 68.6974 and 69.0167 to go with her record average.
“Records are set to be broken, and if it's not broken this season, it might be broken next season, and actually having that record to break can be a very big motivator,” Ko said.
Ko also won the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award for best overall performance in the majors. In fact, Ko’s overall consistency is reminiscent of Sorenstam, who won 72 LPGA tournaments with 10 majors.
In 20 LPGA events this year, Ko has four wins, nine the top threes, a dozen top 10s, 17 top 20s and has been in the top 30 in all of her starts.
That is a remarkable level of play built upon a flashy rookie year in which Ko won the 2018 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, becoming only the second player to win in her debut as an LPGA member. In two seasons on Tour, Ko has made the cut in 44 of 45 tournaments with 12 top 3s and 25 top 10s.
Ask any player the key to winning and they’ll say a key component is giving yourself as many chances to win as possible. Ko does that brilliantly. She is reminiscent of Sorenstam in that she rarely beats herself, making precious few mistakes – technically or mentally.
In fact, earlier this year Ko went 114 consecutive holes without a bogey, breaking a record held by Tiger Woods. And when your name is in the same sentence with Sorenstam and Woods that’s saying something.
Lost at times in the shadow of Ko’s greatness as a player is her goodness as a person, which deserves an award on its own. The fact charitable involvement was among her initial comments when told she had locked up POY indicates that.
“When I started out with golf when I was ten, we were not that well off,” Ko said. “So it was a struggle. When my coach told my mom that I should really go down this path, my parents both had to work very hard so that I could learn golf and become a professional golfer.”
That struggle motivated Ko to perform and the help her family received from others built an appreciation of her obligations to help those who are struggling. “When I started to go on Tour and go on competitions, I would be apart from my family, and whenever we struggled financially or emotionally, there were people around us who helped us out,” she said. “For my mom, too, whenever she thought that they really couldn't pay for my lessons anymore, somehow, somebody helped her and they could afford to pay for my lessons.”
When Ko turned pro at 20 her goal was to pay off the debts her family incurred supporting her career. “Looking back, I think God had that period for me to make me stronger,” she said.
To clinch the Rolex Player of the Year in her native Korea was a fitting completion of a full circle in Ko’s personal and professional life.
“A lot of people saw my yardage book and how I have the Korean flag on it,” she said. “I just want people to know I'm a Korean national and my caddie gave me that flag. I'm just really proud to be Korean, and I would be born Korean again if I had the choice.”
Jin Young Ko is more than 2018 Rookie of the Year and more than 2019 Player of the Year. She embodies the Drive On spirit of the LPGA and exemplifies the passion of golf’s global tour. There is a goodness in her heart that cannot be measured by the numbers that define the greatness of her game.
In every way, Jin Young Ko is Player of the Year.