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A bunch of small steps lead to one major leap for ANA champ J.Y. Ko

ANA Inspiration: Jin Young Ko
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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Jin Young Ko made a bigger splash than anyone could really see when she leaped into Poppie’s Pond Sunday after winning the ANA Inspiration.

An hour or so later, the ripples rolled through the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

When the math was all computed, Ko was projected to move to world No. 1 in Monday’s release of the newest rankings.

That’s a leap of five spots from last week, nine spots from three weeks ago.

A victory at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and now a major championship triumph have sent her soaring to the top of the women’s game.

“I can’t believe it,” Ko said after hoisting the trophy. “I don’t know how I did it.”

Her caddie, veteran Dave Brooker, knows. This was his third leap into Poppie’s Pond. He leaped in with Grace Park in ’04 and Lorena Ochoa in ’08. He also toted Ochoa’s bag when she won the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews in ’07. He knows world-class talent.

“The best player won here,” Brooker said. “I told her coming here, this course was tailor made for her, because of the way she hits it off the tee. She barely missed a fairway this week, and when she did, it was by a yard or so.”

Ko took a one-shot lead into the final round, and she never lost it, even with a couple bogeys on the back nine, with the course challenging everyone. Rolling in a 15-foot birdie at the last, she closed out a 2-under-par 70, leaving her at 10 under for the championship. That was three shots better than Mi Hyang Lee (70) and four better than Lexi Thompson (67).

“I just tried to be the happiest golfer on the golf course,” Ko said.

Mission accomplished.

Make that, Mission Hills accomplished.

Full-field scores from the ANA Inspiration

ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos

Ko is the 15th South Korean to win a major, the fifth to win the ANA Inspiration.

Ko, 23, was the best ball striker this week on a Dinah Shore Course lengthened, tightened and toughened. She finished fifth in fairways hit. She tied for first in hitting greens in regulation.

“When she’s on, she can beat anyone,” Brooker said. “She showed that today.”

Ko’s management team started recruiting Brooker late last season. He told them he was committed to completing his agreement with Paula Creamer, but he would pick up Ko’s bag this year. He knew Ko’s game from seeing her play last season, but he took a harder look knowing they would be together.

Before coming to the United States last year, Ko had won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She nearly won the Women’s British Open in 2015, finishing second to Inbee Park. She won her first LPGA event late in 2017, as a non-member, taking the title at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. She deferred taking up membership until 2018, and then she won her LPGA rookie debut, taking the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open while going on to become Rookie of the Year.

Brooker, while watching from afar, saw just two weaknesses in her game during her rookie campaign. She needed more distance with her driver, and she really needed to shore up her short game. Brooker wasn’t sure how long it would take her to develop a total game, but he was stunned how quickly she did so in the offseason last winter.

With the help of her swing coach and equipment folks, Ko found more distance, reducing spin rates and adjusting launch angles.

With a new short-game coach, Gareth Raflewski, she totally revamped her chipping, putting and wedge game.

“It’s been an absolute whirlwind,” Brooker said. “We finished second in our first start together this year at the Women’s Australian Open.”

In their six starts, Ko has two victories, two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for 29th.

Ko’s improved short game was on display this week. She spent two weeks with Raflewski in Naples, Fla., at the end of last year. He also works with Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Nelly Korda. He huddled again with Jin Young in Phoenix two weeks ago and again here this week.

Raflewski completely changed her putting late last year, revamping her setup. He also got her into a system for dialing in wedge play.

“We built nine different yardages into her wedges,” Raflewski said.

And he taught her a variety of short-game shots.

“She basically had just one shot, which she did really well,” Raflewski said. “She did it with a 60-degree wedge, with a little spin and a little roll.

“She’s a really hard worker, and she learns quickly. Now, she can chip with a number of different clubs. She knows how to spin it or make it roll.”

All of golf got to see the total package Ko is becoming.

“She’s amazing,” Raflewski said. “Just so keen to learn.”