Ko's late success saves a quiet year for Korea's top golfers

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Ko's late success saves a quiet year for Korea's top golfers

Ko Jin-young poses with the Rolex Player of the Year trophy after winning the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida.  [AFP/YONHAP]

Ko Jin-young poses with the Rolex Player of the Year trophy after winning the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

 
What started out as an unexpectedly quiet year for Korean golfers ended with a grand finale on Sunday as Ko Jin-young clinched the last trophy of the season at the CME Group Tour Championship and her second Rolex Player of the Year. 
 
Despite narrowly missing out on reclaiming the world No. 1 position on the Rolex world rankings, No. 2 Ko’s season was nothing short of exceptional. 
 
Ko’s victory on Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship, the 29th and final event on the LPGA Tour this season, earned her the Race to the CME Globe Champion title, as it was the culmination of the season-long points competition, the Race to the CME Globe. She is the first player to successfully defend that title.  
 
Ko Jin-young, left, and Nelly Korda of the United States on the fourth hole during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Ko Jin-young, left, and Nelly Korda of the United States on the fourth hole during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

 
Ko also won her second Rolex Player of the Year award, a title she first won back in 2019. She is the 14th player on the LPGA Tour to win the award at least twice and the first Korean golfer to do so. Ko’s biggest contender for the Tour’s largest honor, Nelly Korda of the United States, took the second position with four titles this season in addition to six top-10 finishes and a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  
 
“So proud of myself, and, well, I would say Player of the Year, it's cool,” said Ko on Sunday. “I would say Player of the Year is best, and it's really tough to get Player of the Year, especially this year with Nelly.”
 
The CME Championship title is the fifth this season for Ko, having won her first season title at the Volunteers of America Classic in July. She then took her second win at the Cambia Portland Classic in September. She kept on going, winning two consecutive titles at the Cognizant Founders Cup and the BMW Ladies Championship in October.
 
Ko Jin-young walks on the 18th hole during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Ko Jin-young walks on the 18th hole during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Sunday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Ko Jin-young plays her shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf on Saturday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Ko Jin-young plays her shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf on Saturday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

 
However, it was a relatively quiet season for other Korean golfers. Park In-bee won Korea’s first trophy at the Kia Classic, the fourth event of the season in the last week of March. Then Kim Hyo-joo won her first LPGA title of the season at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. But things went quiet after that initial flurry, until Ko broke through in July at the Volunteers of America Classic. 
 
Kim Hyo-joo plays her shot on the third hole during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Friday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Kim Hyo-joo plays her shot on the third hole during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Friday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Kim Sei-young plays her shot from the third tee during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Friday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

Kim Sei-young plays her shot from the third tee during the second round of the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on Friday in Naples, Florida. [AFP/YONHAP]

 
Korean golfers had an especially lackluster performance at the Tokyo Games, where all four Olympians missed out on their chance at a medal. The best finish for Team Korea was Kim Sei-young and Ko, finishing tied for ninth with 10-under-par, 274. Kim Hyo-joo finished tied for 15th with nine-under-par, 275, and Park finished tied for 23rd with five-under-par, 279.
 
However, after a three-month hiatus, Ko came back with a vengeance to add four more titles. At the BMW Championship, Ko's victory marked Korea’s 200th win on the LPGA Tour. 
 
Korea has four golfers in the top-10 on the Rolex world rankings. With Ko at No. 2, Park is No. 3, Kim Sei-young No. 4 and Kim Hyo-joo No. 9. Ko has 13 top-10 finishes on the Tour this season, while Park has the lowest average putts, at 28.71 per round, and Lee Jeong-eun has the most birdies, at 343.  
 
Ryu So-yeon [AFP/YONHAP]

Ryu So-yeon [AFP/YONHAP]

Lee Jeong-eun [AFP/YONHAP]

Lee Jeong-eun [AFP/YONHAP]

 
After a two-month break, the 2022 LPGA Tour will open with three weeks in Florida, leading off with the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions starting on Jan. 20, 2022.  

BY YUN SO-HYANG [yun.sohyang@joongang.co.kr]
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