NAPLES, FLORIDA | It has been hard to look forward. Planning past tomorrow in 2020 has seemed like an exercise in frustration and futility. Where are we going? What is Plan B? And then, when summer slipped to fall and fall into a disheartening winter, the questions became darker. What are we doing? What is the point?
Through it all, golf has been a respite, a light, an oasis in a desert of despair. From the first Drive On Championship at Inverness Club to the CME Group Tour Championship the week before Christmas, the LPGA Tour did its part to add some normalcy to the abnormal. Players like Danielle Kang, Sei Young Kim, Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford gave us a reason to cheer, a reason to breathe, a north star on which to set our bearings in what often seemed like an unbearable time.
The fact that Jin Young Ko would win the CME Group Tour Championship in just her fourth start of the year and become the only player since the LPGA began keeping statistics to win the season-long money title in just a tick over a month is the perfect metaphor for 2020. Ko couldn’t plan for this week. She didn’t know until last Monday that she was in the field. She had to finish fourth or better at the U.S. Women’s Open to qualify. In the frigid north winds of Houston, Ko shot a closing 68 to finish tied for second.
A week later, she rolled in a 10-foot putt on the final green at Tiburon Golf Club – her fifth birdie in seven holes – to shoot 66 and put the perfect capstone on the year. Dressed in what has become her traditional Sunday white, Ko blew a kiss to the sky to cap off her five-shot victory.
She is a white knight for a black time.
“I still can't believe I am here,” the 25-year-old said. “And then I won the tournament. I just want to thank God. He makes my plan. Not me. I did nothing. He makes everything. I just want to thank God and I can't believe it right now.”
That is a prayer uttered by many in and out of golf this year. The Almighty finds a lot of new followers in times of crisis, when the illusion of control reveals itself to be mere fantasy. If 2020 wasn’t that time, then it has never existed.
“Before I teed off, I just thought, okay, 18 holes left and you can go home so just relax and just enjoy, just keep it up,” Ko said, recapping her winning performance on Sunday. “I just kept reminding myself of that one thing. And I just prayed all the time on the course. And with that, I enjoyed it.”
Ko and Sei Young Kim went back and forth throughout the front nine of the last round. After a birdie at the first by Ko, the two were tied at the top. Then Ko took the lead when Kim bogeyed five. It went back to level when Ko bogeyed 9. But starting at the 12th, Ko went on a tear. She birdied three holes in a row, sticking approaches like a polished professional who had been in competition all year. Then she birdied the par-3 16th to take a four-shot lead to the final tee.
“I didn't see the scoreboard,” she said. “I just felt like, okay, I am the leader. So, I just wanted to keep it going.
“Then I just focused on my body and my mind. (On 18) Dave (Brooker, her caddie) asked me, ‘Do you know what's happening?’ I said I didn’t know. I said, ‘I know just one thing: I am the leader right now.’
“He said, ‘You have a 4-stroke lead so you can enjoy this time.’ But when I arrived at the green (with a downhill 10-footer for birdie) he told me, ‘Lorena Ochoa (whom Brooker worked for before Lorena’s retirement) always said, ‘Dave, professionals finish strong.’
“That was my motivation for my last putt. So, I made it. I would just say, thank you Dave and Lorena.”No, thank you, Jin Young. In a year filled with uncertainty, where no one knew where they would be or what they would be doing next week, you showed us all that, with the confidence that comes from faith and prayer, a last-minute change in plans can become something beautiful, something meaningful. Something historic.