WONJU South Korea – Former golf world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who was born in Seoul before leaving at the age of four for New Zealand, won in her birth country for the first time on Sunday as she captured the BMW Ladies Championship.
She fired a sizzling final-round, seven-under-par 65 to finish at 21-under 267, four clear of American Andrea Lee (69, 271). Her compatriot Lilia Vu (69) and South Koreans Choi Hye-jin (68) and Kim Hyo-joo (68) were joint third a further stroke back.
It was Ko’s second LPGA Title this year after the Gainbridge LPGA in January, and 18th overall, but her first in South Korea. She pocketed US$300,000 (S$424,590) and has career earnings of US$14.7 million. This is her first multiple-win campaign since 2016.
The Oak Valley Country Club is just a two-hour drive from Seoul and the significance was not lost on Ko.
Answering a question in fluent Korean, Ko said she had butterflies in the stomach going up to the first tee, more so than in other tournaments.
“I told my sister I was a bit nervous, and that’s how much I wanted to win in Korea,” Ko said. “Then my sister told me it’s good to be playing with at least some nerves. So I trusted her and tried to focus on my play.”
She said her uncles, aunts, cousins, parents, sister and brother-in-law were following her around the course and their presence motivated her.
She added: “It means a lot to win in Korea. It’s a place that I’m born and it makes it very special...
“I said, more than ever, I really want to win in Korea once before my career is done and to be able to do it, a few of my relatives are here and this is the first year since Covid that we’ve had fans, it means a lot. A win is special in its own way. This is one to cherish.”
She was world No. 1 as a teen sensation in 2015 but later struggled with her game before rising again to No. 5 now.
“I think people underestimate what the level of the LPGA is and what the level of women’s golf is right now.
“This is probably one of my best seasons I’ve had, and I wanted to finish my season off strong, including this one, with only three events to go,” she said.
Overnight leader Atthaya Thitikul held a one-stroke lead but faded after a 74 to finish sixth on 275, eight shots behind the 25-year-old Ko.
The 19-year-old Thai, ranked second in the world, needed to finish a solo fourth or better to replace South Korean Ko Jin-young, who withdrew after two rounds due to injury, as world No. 1.
In 2017, Atthaya became the youngest to win a professional golf event when she captured the Ladies European Thailand Championship as an amateur at 14 years, four months and 19 days. She also was the No. 1 amateur for 12 weeks in 2019 when she was 16.
After winning four times on the Ladies European Tour from 2017-21, Atthaya has won twice on the LPGA tour this season: the JTBC Classic in March and Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in September. REUTERS