TURNBERRY, Scotland – The wind and rain off the Firth of Clyde are blowing in some wild stories this week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
There’s a Ko atop the leaderboard at Trump Turnberry going into Sunday’s final round, but it isn’t New Zealand’s Lydia Ko.
It’s South Korea’s Jin-Young Ko.
“People think we’re related,” Jin-Young said. “I get asked a lot of if we’re related.”
They aren’t, but they know each other. They met at the HanaBank Championship last fall, the only LPGA event Jin-Young has ever played. They share more than a last name. They share extraordinary abilities.
Jin-Young, who just turned 20 three weeks ago, is playing in her first major championship. She has no true links experience. She never set foot on soil anywhere in the United Kingdom until arriving to play the Ricoh Women’s British Open this week. She played just one practice round at Trump Turnberry, 18 holes on Wednesday, and yet she’s tied for the lead going into the final round.
With a 3-under-par 69 Saturday, Jin-Young Ko moved into a share of the lead with Taiwan’s Teresa Lu.
With three consecutive sub-par rounds in some pretty foul weather, Jin-Young Ko is at 8 under with Lu (69). They’re one shot ahead of Suzann Pettersen (72), two shots ahead of Mika Miyazato (70) and three ahead of Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park (69), Lydia Ko (72) and Minjee Lee (70).
Here’s the crazy thing about Jin-Young’s run up the leaderboard. Her only practice round on Wednesday was in the best weather this week, a rare warm and sunny day at Trump Turnberry. The golf gods cranked up the wind and rain beginning Thursday. They conjured down raking winds and rain through most of the first three days, and Jin-Young got the absolute worst of the draw. She got the early/late draw in the first two rounds, when the intermittent rains hit the hardest.
Jin-Young was asked how she explains this performance.
Because, really, she must possess shot-making genius to defy the odds like this, right? She must have mastered the art of holding draws and fades against the strong cross winds, right? And she must be terrifically skilled at controlling trajectory, able to ohit low bullets into the wind, right?
Wait until you hear her answer.
“I play regular, just like I play on the Korean tour, same tempo,” she said through a translator. “There is no changing at all. I just play normal . . . use more club or less club, hit one-shot pattern, just hit straight ball.”
Jin Young does have some local magic working for her. She hired a Scottish-born caddie who she just met this week. He’s Jeff Brighton, 27, who started caddying at Trump Turnberry when he was 13. He later became a member. Though he now lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he also caddies, he still gets over to Turnberry a lot.
Brighton isn’t a professional tour caddie, but he knows his way around star talent. He used to caddie for Dennis Hopper at the Dunhill Links, the iconic late actor who played alongside James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” and countless other movie classics.
What Brighton knows best, though, is Trump Turnberry.
“I’ve been around this course a thousand times,” Brighton said.
So, basically, he must be coaching her up with some extraordinary direction, right?
“No, basically, she just hits it where I point every time,” Brighton said. “We pick a line, and she’s going to hit it right there. I’m almost taking it for granted now.”
Ko isn’t fluent in English, but she speaks it pretty well, enough for effective player/caddie communication. She didn’t have to say a word, though, for Brighton to see how talented she is. Yet another rising star on the Korean LPGA, she’s No. 28 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, a four-time winner on that tour, with three of those victories this year. She’s trying to become the third KLPGA member to win over the last five majors.
Brighton said Ko really isn’t working the ball to hold shots against the tough winds here.
“No, we’re just sort of focused on using the wind as a friend,” Brighton said. “If it’s blowing left to right, we play it out 10 meters to the left.”
Brighton couldn’t believe how well Ko navigated Turnberry out near the lighthouse, closest to the ocean, on late Friday, when the wind was howling and the rain was blowing sideways. They finished in the dark in a six-hour round. She posted one of the most magical 71s he has ever seen.
“Incredible, really something,” Ko said. “She’s from Korea, and she isn’t used to weather like this. She didn’t complain or get flustered once. We couldn’t reach three of the par 4s, the rain and wind were blowing so hard, but she just hit the shots she needed.”
Brighton shook his head hearing that Ko’s tied for the lead.
“The next sensation,” Brighton said.
Nobody’s had a better view this week.