Imagine if she’d played more. Jin Young Ko has started in 13 LPGA Tour events in 2021, averaging about one start every three weeks. In those outings, the former Rolex Rankings No. 1 has two wins, a third, two fourths and has finished tied for seventh twice in two major championships, the ANA Inspiration and the U.S. Women’s Open. Her latest victory, a four-shot margin at the rain-shortened Cambia Portland Classic, was her first start in six weeks since representing her native South Korea in the Olympics. And to call it impressive would be an understatement.
For starters, it was a new golf course, one none of the contestants had seen and one that had, according to 2020 Cambia Portland Classic champion Hannah Green, “the quickest greens we’ve played all year.” Brooke Henderson, who has won in Portland twice, called Oregon Golf Club, a late replacement for Columbia Edgewater Country Club, “a shot-maker’s golf course with a lot of strategy involved,” while Yealimi Noh, who came within a whisker of winning this event last year, said of Oregon Golf Club: “It's pretty long with it being uphill on a lot of holes, so I think a lot of longer hitters might take advantage of that. I think just getting around the slopes (is key). You’ve just got to play smart and put yourself in a good position. And be patient on greens because they're rolling very fast. Yeah, it'll be an interesting week.”
Ko had to be smiling on the inside when she heard those comments. The criteria her peers mentioned had her name written all over them. Ko is a ball-striking machine, hitting 79.94% of her fairways and 75.56% of her greens in regulation. And while she isn’t especially long, averaging just under 257 yards with the driver, she has an extra gear when needed. But precision is Ko’s game. She is so rarely out of position that it doesn’t surprise anyone when she posts what looks like a ho-hum round of 66 or 67. She also ranks second on the LPGA Tour in rounds under par, which, given her relatively small number of starts, might be the most extraordinary statistic of all.
In the 45 stroke-play rounds she’s played this year Ko has put up a number in the 60s 21 times. And she’s been under par in 33 out of 45 rounds. Half of her rounds that were even par or over came in major championships where course conditions make those numbers seem good.
In Portland, she dominated in another stat, taking only 48 putts through the first two rounds. The 30 putts she had in round three, which came on Sunday after Saturday was a washout, pushed her tournament average to 26 putts per round for the week.
“I changed putters a few weeks ago in Korea and I spent time, over a month, in Korea, so I feel really like comfortable and fresh,” Ko said.
She finished 11-under par for the week after draining a 25-footer on the final green, one that was wholly unnecessary since her nearest challengers, Su Oh and Jeongeun Lee, were in the clubhouse at 7-under.
“I was thinking, I can just make an easy two-putt. But the ball went in, so, who knows,” she said.
So, hit almost 80% of your fairways, then hit more than three-quarters of your greens in regulation. And then putt like a wizard. Do that and you will make golf look boring and easy.
And just for giggles, you can then follow it up with a quote so understated that it makes everyone who hears it smile – something like, “I'm playing really good right now.”
Indeed, you are, Jin Young. That’s one way of putting it.