Lexi Thompson may not have added another major championship to her resume Sunday, but her victory was major in every other way.
The American beat the best South Koreans in their Korean homeland in the only LPGA event staged in a nation where women’s golf is so wildly popular.
She came from behind in the final round to overtake Korean-born Lydia Ko at the KEB Hana Bank Championship, denying Ko the Rolex world No. 1 ranking a month after Ko came from behind to beat her in the final round of the year’s final major.
Massive Korean galleries swarmed the Sky 72 Ocean Course Sunday.
“I would say this is more of a major feel coming over here, with how big the crowds are and how the golf courses are set up, the grandstands,” Thompson said. “Just the whole feel of it, this is like a major championship over here, for our Asia Swing.”
One stroke behind Ko and up-and-coming Korean LPGA star Sung Hyun Park at day’s start, Thompson overtook them both with a 3-under-par 69. At 15 under overall, Thompson finished a shot ahead of Park and Yani Tseng and two ahead of Ko, Gerina Piller and Amy Yang.
One of the best drivers in the women’s game, Thompson, 20, took control Sunday, launching towering tee shots down the middle of one fairway after another, but she sealed her sixth career LPGA victory, her second this season, finessing a pair of short-game shots coming down the stretch.
“That's what I've been working on, my short game, my chipping and my putting in the offseason, trying to improve upon that,” Thompson said.
Thompson beat Ko in the midst of one of Ko’s hottest runs, though Ko wasn’t at her best Sunday in Incheon. Ko came to South Korea having finished T-3 or better in five of her last six starts, with two victories in that run. Even Ko’s trademark short game betrayed her in the middle of Sunday’s round.
“Lexi played great,” Ko said. “It’s hard to play awesome in the final round.”
Thompson is on her own hot run now. She won the Meijer Classic in late July and finished runner up to Ko at the Evian Championship last month. Thompson has finished top 10 in five of her last seven starts. Plus, she had that terrific performance at the Solheim Cup, where she was undefeated helping the Americans beat the Europeans.
Thompson will move up one spot to No. 4 in the newest Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She said her game is almost where it was when she broke through to win the ANA Inspiration last year for her first major championship title.
“I think I probably putted better at ANA,” Thompson said. “Still, my game is definitely coming together like it was there, just overall consistency, but that's what I've been working on, just trying to get it all to come together for me.”
Thompson overcame illness at week’s start to win in South Korea.
“Getting sick earlier in the week, it was tough,” Thompson said. “I was throwing up a lot, and I just didn't have any energy when I got here. I didn't really expect much. I was a little tired, but as the week went on, I got better.”
Thompson said the large Korean galleries were very supportive.
“It was incredible,” she said. “It's great to see the big crowds and to hear them cheering on everybody in between shots or in between holes.
“Even if you're playing bad, they are always there to lift you up. That's what we want. We play for our fans. We play for our sponsors. To have them out there, that many people just cheering me on, it helped me out to get through the week and get the win, for sure.”