When the dust settled on one of the tumultuous back nines in recent LPGA memory, Lydia Ko emerged with the No. 1 ranking – the youngest in men’s or women’s golf history – but not the tournament title after a double bogey on the 17th derailed her from the title that Na Yeon Choi walked away with. Choi finished one shot clear of Ko, Ha Na Jang and Jessica Korda at the Coates Golf Championship Presented by R&L Carriers at 16 under. But when Lydia Ko exited the scorer’s tent, she was informed that at 17 years old she was the new projected No. 1 when the rankings are released come Monday.
She let out an exasperated gasp, rolled her eyes as if the mere thought of No. 1 was an annoyance, everyone laughed, and she smiled and ran over to take selfies with fans. Only Ko could have remained this cool throughout a disappointing loss and subsequent major honor. As always, nothing seems to have an influence on the new projected world No. 1.
“It’s amazing. I didn’t know that, I didn’t really know what I needed to do to get in that position. All I was focused was try and play my best out here today. So it’s a huge honor to be in that ranking,” Ko said. “I’m just going to focus on my golf, not think about the rankings. The rankings, like I said, it always comes after the results.”
Na Yeon Choi didn’t walk away with the ranking but she surely exited with the trophy after a final-round 68. The eight-time career LPGA winner hadn’t won since 2012 and was admittedly getting fed up with a self-perceived cold streak.
“I think I had a lot of stress from my results,” Choi said. “Even if I finished top 5 or 10, not many people said, ‘You did a good job!’”
Choi said the pressure from back home began to mount with each stellar result, which in turn then later exacerbated the perception of a slump among fans and media in Korea. She finished 13th on the money list – the worst finish in her seven years on Tour – and “no one says, like, ‘Na Yeon did a good job.’”
“I know they have a lot of expectations from me because they think I’m a good player, so they always want me being a champion and win a tournament,” Choi said. “But this is golf and there’s like more than 30 tournaments a year. And still last year I missed the cut twice, but that was the most I have in like the last seven years and they think I got like a slump.”
|Na Yeon Choi||68||70||66||68||-16|
|Ha Na Jang||67||65||71||70||-15|
WHEN THEY REACHED NO. 1
YOUNGEST NO.1's ALL SPORTS
KO’S REWARD FOR NO. 1
Lydia Ko’s big reward for becoming the world No. 1?
“I’m just excited that we can actually drive home tonight. We can drive home. It’s really cool to have a Saturday finish,” Ko said.
It’d be easy for the No. 1 to change the seemingly unflappable Ko but no one that’s gotten to know her over the last two years on Tour sees that happening to this seemingly otherworldly 17-year-old.
“I think she’s kind of starting to figure it out that there’s a lot more that goes on, but she’s still pretty naive at 17 and I don’t see this changing her too much or changing her outlook,” former World No. 1 Stacy Lewis said. “She might be a little bit busier, but I don’t see Lydia changing too much.”
In most pros mind, this was only a matter of time. Even at 17.
“Doesn’t surprise me. She’s very talented,” Cristie Kerr said. “It will be interesting to see how she handles it. I’ll be watching just as much as you. I’m going to be chasing her down this year. I’m going to try, anyways.”
Added Lewis: “It’s history. It’s never been done. I can’t say I’m surprised. It was just a matter of time. She’s playing some great golf right now and she’s confident. She’s rolling in putts and it’s good. She’s a good kid and a good person to see at the top of the world.”
Both Kerr and Lewis have held the No. 1 post and had a simple heads up for Ko about the most difficult aspect of being No. 1.
“Staying there. To maintain that level of play for a long period of time. Tiger did it forever, Lorena. See what happens,” Kerr said.
Added Inbee Park, who Ko is projected to take the No. 1 ranking from: “I mean, just the thought that everybody’s behind you and trying to catch you. And you have to play well every week, that’s obviously hard to do.”
But when pros are asked to describe her game, it’s hard to imagine her not at least battling for the No. 1 ranking for a long time.
“She’s probably the straightest player out on the Tour, and obviously she can roll the putts in. So, I mean, the golf gets easier from there if you hit the ball straight and you can roll the ball in,” Park said. “I heard she’s putting even better than last year, so that’s going to be really tough to beat.”
Added Kerr” She’s way wise beyond her years.”
Kerr pointed to the CME Group Tour Championship when Ko won the tournament and the Race to the CME Globe for the biggest prize in women’s golf history as the time she realized this was a 17-year-old going on 30 on the golf course.
“She not only won the CME and a million and a half was on the line and it didn’t even look like she cared, you know,” Kerr said.
Kerr was then asked if she’d ever seen Ko rattled, and ended the interview with a classic response.
“Her? Not yet but she hasn’t lived that long,” she said with a laugh.
KORDA STARTS THE YEAR STRONG AGAIN
Jessica Korda was a lipped out birdie putt on 18 away from sneaking into a playoff with eventual winner Na Yeon Choi and a chance at her third season-opening victory in four years.
“Almost,” Korda said after her round. “It lipped out. It was pretty tough, a tough break.” Korda, who picked up wins at last year’s PureSilk Bahamas LPGA Classic and the 2012 Handa Australian Open to start LPGA seasons, will have to settle for a T2 in her 2015 season debut.
“Always feels good to start strong but you’ve got to keep it going,” Korda said. “It’s a really long season and it’s just one of those, it’s a marathon, not a sprint in the first tournament. It’s been a lot of fun.”
HIGHS AND LOWS FOR KO
Golf is a game of ups and downs and nothing was more evident than Lydia Ko dropping a 60-foot birdie putt on 15 and following it up with a double bogey on the 17th.
“You know, it’s tough,” Ko admitted. “Na Yeon was playing great, great all day, and so were the other players. I just tried to focus on my game, that’s what I can do really. Obviously I really didn’t expect that putt to go in on 15. Yeah, I was just off the green and when I hit it it was going in there really fi rm. So when I made that putt I kind of had goosebumps going all over me. I guess that kind of just balances it out with a couple loose shots on 17. I holed a lot of good putts today and the last couple days, so I really think just everything just balanced it out. Obviously there were some angry emotions, too, but what can I do?”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
6 - Alison Walshe tallied her career best finish with a solo sixth. Walshe also finished T6 at the 2013 Sime Darby Malaysia
7 - The par-5 seventh has played as the easiest hole on the course at 4.758, Na Yeon Choi played the hole in 3-under for the week
13- The par-4 13th has played as the hardest hole on the course this week at 4.380, Na Yeon Choi played the hole in 2-over for the week
24 - Na Yeon Choi only needed 24 putts in her final round
2012 - Na Yeon Choi’s win today is her first since the 2012 CME Group Titleholders
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Oh, so crazy. I feel like I’m playing a major. It’s incredible. First tournament of the season. Stands are full, fairways are full. It’s incredible.”-Jessica Korda on the fans at the Coates Golf Championship Presented by R&L Carriers