Golf: Insatiable Ko Jin-young wants to be better, at everything

Ko Jin-young won five times on the LPGA Tour last year. PHOTO: HSBC WOMEN'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP/IMG

SINGAPORE - Ko Jin-young will not settle for anything less than first-rate.

She won five times on the LPGA Tour last year, reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking and was named Player of the Year but spent the off-season, despite protestations from her coach Lee Si-woo, tinkering with her back swing as she felt it was too unreliable.

The same could be said regarding her language skills, which is why two months ago the South Korean started taking English lessons, the first time she has worked with a tutor since she attended middle school in Seoul.

"I'm the kind of person who always wants to be better, at everything I do," Ko tells The Straits Times on Wednesday (March 2). "I wasn't comfortable with my swing so I'm working on it. I want to communicate better with the other players on Tour, so I decided to hire an English coach. He's in Korea but I call him regularly and he gives me homework."

It is this commitment towards excellence that explains Ko's dominance of women's golf. Her five victories last term was the most in a single season since Ariya Jutanugarn also won five times in 2016.

Ko also earned just over US$3.5 million (S$4.76 million), more prizemoney in a year than anyone besides Mexican great Lorena Ochoa, who won eight events and banked over US$4.3 million in 2007.

After her stunning triumph at last November's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, which Ko won despite an injured left wrist that meant she could barely practise or warm up, she took an extended break to recover.

Ko, 26, skipped the Tour's first three events in Florida and is making her season debut at the HSBC Women's World Championship.

Her best finish at the Sentosa Golf Club was joint-third in 2019 and few would bet against her bettering that on Sunday.

Ko's past seven starts since last September read win, tied-6th, tied-2nd, win, win, tied-6th, win. She has not missed a green in regulation for 63 consecutive holes - from her last 3 1/2 rounds at the CME.

Humility kicked in when reminded of that streak. She said jokingly: "My irons, my clubs are good, not me. Many people have talked about those 63 greens, but I try not to think about it. I just try to have fun out there."

Solving the puzzle of the 6,740-yard New Tanjong Course, which has added 150 trees since last year's tournament, will be a tricky task though.

World No. 11 Brooke Henderson said: "The course is playing slightly longer, the rough's grown in some areas and the trees seem taller and bushier.

"It'll definitely be a challenge over the next few days but there's a lot of birdie opportunities so hopefully I'll be able to capitalise on those."

For Koh Sock Hwee, Singapore's sole representative at the event, a decent outing this week will be a welcome boost before she heads off to the United States to compete on the smaller domestic tours there.

Koh, 33, said: "This is my fourth time in this event (after appearances in 2012, 2015 and 2016) and I'm more matured. I'm not as nervous as I was in the last two editions.

"I've worked a lot on my putting in the last two years. The greens here are nice but they're unforgiving."

So are the standards Ko sets for herself. Even if they sometimes are ill advised, like her dinner on Tuesday night. She and her friends ordered a huge meal, including bamboo clams, a big fish and crabs.

"I was so full and I couldn't really sleep after that," she laughed. "This morning I didn't have breakfast either."

Her appetite for winning is equally insatiable.

First round tee times (selected)

1st hole


Chun In-gee, Angel Yin (USA)


Celine Boutier (Fra), Caroline Masson (Ger)


Atthaya Thitikul (Tha)


Ariya Jutanugarn (Tha), Kim Hyo-joo


Park In-bee, Hannah Green (Aus), Brooke Henderson (Can)


Hinako Shibuno (Jpn) Minjee Lee (Aus) Kim Sei-young


Lizette Salas (USA), Patty Tavatanakit (Tha), Park Sung-hyun


Lydia Ko (Nzl), Yuka Saso (Phi), Ko Jin-young


Danielle Kang (USA), Leona Maguire (Ire), Nasa Hataoka (Jpn)

10th hole


Charley Hull (Eng), Moriya Jutanugarn (Tha)


Momoko Ueda (Jpn), Lin Xiyu (Chn)


Jasmine Suwannapura (Tha), Stacy Lewis (USA)


Yealimi Noh (USA), Wichanee Meechai (Tha), Koh Sock Hwee (Sgp)


Lee Jeong-eun, Amy Yang

*Kor unless stated

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