Ko Jin-young looks for first U.S. Open title in Southern Pines
World No. 1 Ko Jin-young leads a 22-women Korean contingent to the U.S. Women's Open presented by ProMedica starting on Thursday.
The world's top seven players — No. 1 Ko, No.2 Nelly Korda of the United States, No. 3 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, No. 4 Minjee Lee of Australia, No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand, No. 6 Lexi Thompson of the United States and No. 7 Nasa Hataoka of Japan — will all tee off at Southern Pines in North Carolina on Thursday, with the highest-ranked absentee being No. 8 Park In-bee.
Alongside the world's top seven players, there are also 12 past champions joining the competitive field. Of the 12, seven are Korean golfers: 2009 champion Ji Eun-hee, 2011's Ryu So-yeon, 2012's Choi Na-yeon, 2015's Chun In-gee, 2018's Park Sung-hyun, 2019's Lee Jeong-eun and 2020's Kim A-lim.
The first-ever Korean to win the U.S. Open was Korean golf legend Pak Se-ri. Pak, the winningest Korean in LPGA history, has long been the face of Korean golf. Women's golf started to grow popular in Korea in 1998, when Pak pulled off a wire-to-wire win at the LPGA Championship as a 20-year-old rookie. Two months later, she went on to win the U.S. Women’s Open to become the first-ever Asian to win a major.
The field this year also includes all 12 LPGA Tour winners from 2022, including last week's champion Ji, who won the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards to secure the final spot in the major field.
The defending champion is Yuka Saso of Japan, who last year became the 21st player to make the U.S. Women's Open title her first LPGA Tour victory and the fourth in three years to win a major as a non-Member.
In 2021, Saso took a playoff victory over Nasa Hataoka at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, she tied Park In-bee's record as the all-time youngest U.S. Women's Open champion.
World No. 1 Ko returns to the golf course after a three week hiatus. Her last event was the Cognizant Founders Cup, where she finished tied for 17th. Despite being the world's top golfer, Ko has not won the U.S. Open.
"I played this golf course last Saturday, Sunday and today. Will play it tomorrow, as well," said Ko in a pre-tournament interview on Tuesday. "I like the shot shapes, and I like to play — greens are bigger, but landing area is small, so it feels smaller greens so I like that. The course is tough, but it's fun to play."
Ko started out her season on the right foot, winning a trophy at the HSBC Women's World Championship on March 3.
"Well, yeah, I had one in Singapore, and I had couple chances to win, but I was close," Ko said about her season so far. "But, yeah, my swing or game is fine so far, but I need to more wins over this year, so I want to. I'm working on with my caddie and with my team, so it's good."
Ko has spent most of the last three years on the top of the Rolex women's rankings, occasionally swapping places with No. 2 Korda. Last June, Ko lost the No. 1 title for the first time since July 8, 2019, then reclaimed the spot last October after winning the BMW Championship.
The reigning Olympic champion Korda returns to competition this week after almost three months off after being diagnosed with a blood clot in her left arm.
But as Ko has said in several past interviews, the world ranking is not something that is on her mind when competing.
"I'm just trying to focus on my game better, and I know in this Tour we have a lot of good players, so I don't think I have only one rival, I have lots of rivals in this Tour," Ko said.
"I don't want to think about beat with America versus Korea or whatever, two countries. We are just human, so I don't want to fight with like person to person. We love to play golf in this Tour, so if play better person, she will be world No. 1 or she will be win. Yeah, we're all trying to get better then better. I don't want to think like beat with America versus Korea. Can't."
The U.S. Women's Open returns to the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina for the fourth time in its storied history and for the first time since 2007.
"Iron shots," answered Ko when asked what she needs to do to score well on the course. "Because greens are — looks bigger, but landing area is smaller, so we need to like dart irons."
The U.S. Women's Open is a 72-hole, stroke-play competition. A field of 156 players will play 18 holes of stroke play on Thursday and Friday. The field will be reduced to the low 60 scores and ties and the players making the cut will play 18 holes on Saturday and Sunday.
In case of a tie upon the completion of the four rounds, a two-hole aggregate playoff will immediately follow and if this playoff results in a tie, the tied players will immediately continue to a sudden-death playoff until the winner is determined.
Alongside Ko, 21 Korean golfers — Alicia Joo, Kim Min-sol, Ji Eun-hee, Lee Mi-rim, Lee So-mi, Kim A-lim, Ryu So-yeon, Choi Na-yeon, Kim In-kyung, Park Bo-hyun, Chun In-gee, Choi Hye-jin, Kim Hyo-joo, Lee Jeong-hyun, Park Sung-hyun, Ryu Hae-ran, Amy Yang, Kim Sei-young, Lee Jeong-eun, An Na-rin and Lee Il-hee — will tee off on Thursday.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]