The South Korean pipeline delivering promising young stars to the LPGA continues to flow.
Jin Young Ko won the KEB Hana Bank Championship Sunday, becoming the fourth Korean LPGA Tour member in the last four years to win an LPGA event as a non-member.
Ko, 22, held off two South Korean superstars with huge followings in front of what the LPGA reported were record crowds. She closed with a 4-under-par 68 to defeat Rolex world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park (68) by two shots and No. 7 In Gee Chun (69) by three at the Sky 72 Ocean Course in Incheon.
“I have been quite nervous, starting yesterday,” Ko said through a translator. “After the final putt, I was kind of overwhelmed with emotion.”
It’s the 14th victory by a South Korean in 28 LPGA events this year, one shy of the country’s best win total in a single season. There are five LPGA events left this season.
Ko, a nine-time KLPGA Tour winner, has the option of taking up membership on the American-based LPGA tour this year and next year, or deferring membership until the start of next year.
“I haven't really given it much thought, because I hadn't imagined I would be given the opportunity,” Ko said. “I haven't really considered my options when it comes to the LPGA yet. There is another major event in the KLPGA that starts next week, so my mind was more on that.”
Ko, who has won three events in Korea in the last three months, will meet with her team to discuss her options.
“I can’t give you a response on what I plan to do,” she said. “Because I’m a KLPGA player, I should focus on the remaining season of the KLPGA. As for whether I am joining the LPGA, that’s not a decision I can make on my own. I would have to discuss that with my parents, my team, on what’s the best way forward.”
Ko opened with bogeys at two of the first three holes before taking charge with birdies at four of the last five holes on the front nine. She said the galleries were overwhelmingly behind Park and Chun, who have two of the largest fan clubs in Korean golf.
“In the final grouping, I was able to really realize just how many fans In Gee and Sung Hyun have,” Ko said. “When we were talking from hole to hole, the gallery would be cheering for them. I couldn’t really hear my name. That was a bit disappointing, slightly.”
Ko, who cited her Christian faith as having helped her, appeared to show some nervousness with those early bogeys, but she shook it off quickly.
“It was a first for me to play in front of such a large crowd,” she said. “I think that is also going to be an experience that can help me grow further as a player.”
Ko had an experienced guide helping her navigate through the huge crowds, with Dean Herden as her caddie. Herden, an Australian, was on Chun’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open two years ago. He also was on So Yeon Ryu’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011 and on Jiyai Shin’s bag when she won the Women’s British Open in 2008.
Herden, Ko said, steadied her after the rough start.
“After I made the two bogeys, I had a really long chat with Dean, about why I was so nervous,” Ko said. “I realized I had no reason to be nervous. I was actually putting a lot of pressure on myself. After that, Dean was there. He kept reminding me that being nervous was quite natural, that I needed to accept those nerves. I think I kept reminding myself of that.”