The LPGA Rolex Player of the Year competition is appealing to some because it boils down to basic math, and Jin Young Ko knew exactly what he needed to do to win the title for the second time: win the CME Group Tour Championship.
The season-long race came down to the final round of the year, with the world’s two greatest players fighting in the final group side by side. With a career-high 63, Ko won the competition and won the POY title by 14 points over World No. 1 Nelly Korda.
It was a big win to cap off the opening chapter of what will hopefully be a long-running rivalry between the two. This year, Ko won five LPGA titles against Korda’s four, becoming the first South Korean woman to win the POY twice.
“I’m sorry for Nelly,” Ko added, “but I got off a little easier than she did.”
Since Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko won five and four times respectively in 2016, the circuit hasn’t had a season like this—with two players going back and forth.
Lydia Ko, who felt like a third wheel playing with the pair in Round 1 of the CME, remarked, “They have two very distinct games.” “Their games are completely different, even though their strengths are similar.
That there is a lot of talent out there, she says. To be dominant, you need a mix of players. “A big change is possible.”
Korda’s first major triumph, the KPMG Women’s PGA, as well as Olympic gold in Tokyo, undoubtedly defined the first half of the year. Because it was not a recognized LPGA event, the gold medal does not count toward Player of the Year. Some people believe that this has to change.
This season, Ko competed in 19 official LPGA events, compared to 17 for Korda, giving her more chances to earn points. Only the top ten finishers gain points, and at the majors, they are worth twice. With 13 top tens to Korda’s 10, Ko topped the tour this season.
In the second half of the season, Ko’s consistency was unrivaled. Annika Sorenstam and So Yeon Ryu shared the record for most straight rounds in the 60s with 14.
In 2021, Ko won five of her final nine events, proving to be a Sunday wizard with a 66.89 final-round score average. She won more rounds in the 60s than in the 70s in her last nine starts, with 29 of 33 rounds in the 60s. During that time, she hit 87.8% of her greens.
While suffering a painful left wrist that first flared up in the spring, Ko nailed a record-breaking 63 consecutive greens in regulation during the CME. During her week in Naples, she didn’t get a chance to hit full shots beyond a wedge. When she travels to South Korea, Ko hopes to have an MRI on her wrist.
She responded yes to the question of whether she could have won more if she had been in better health.
“It wasn’t good early in the year,” she remarked, referring to May, June, and July. “However, it was really severe in Tokyo.” So right now all I want to do is return to Tokyo.”
Whether it’s a birdie bet for dinner with her caddie David Brooker or being named Golfer of the Year, Ko is the type of player who rises to the moment. Carrots get her attention. While other players may try to downplay their lofty ambitions, Ko is the type that calculates the odds every time she wins a prize. The LPGA Hall of Fame requires 27 points to be inducted, and Ko understands better than anyone that she’s only 10 points away right now.
Ko has 12 titles, including two majors, in only four years on the tour, and has only missed two cuts in 70 starts. What’s next, according to Ko, is to deposit the remaining $1.5 million check after taxes and enjoy the offseason in South Korea.
She stated, “I want to enjoy Christmas.” “I’m not ready to start planning for next year yet.” But I had an incredible year, winning five times, and I’m grateful.”
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