Ko teary after eagle to end long title drought

An emotional Lydia Ko being hugged by friends after beating Australia's Minjee Lee in a play-off to win the Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California on Sunday.
An emotional Lydia Ko being hugged by friends after beating Australia's Minjee Lee in a play-off to win the Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California on Sunday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAN FRANCISCO • Some 234 yards away from the par-five 18th hole, Lydia Ko pulled out a three-wood and hit the ball to three feet from the pin. She then tapped in for an eagle at the first play-off hole to beat Minjee Lee at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in California.

After over six years of elite-level golf and at least 30,000 shots, the New Zealander acknowledged her penultimate shot on Sunday was her best effort yet.

In other words, even better than her chip shot from the left-side rough at the same Lake Merced Golf Club hole that gave her a first win as a professional at the 2014 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.

"I was in the rough and it was one of the first times when I imagined how the golf ball would react, landing it just short of the green, run up and me having a birdie opportunity," she told New Zealand news website Stuff.co.nz, referring to her 2014 effort. "I think that even though it's a shorter shot, I've always classed that as one of the best shots I've ever played, but I think I was able to do the best here."

Australian Lee salvaged a birdie from the greenside rough but Ko rolled in her putt to notch her first win in 44 starts. The former world No. 1 dropped her head back - in relief or disbelief - then cried as she was congratulated on the green.

She now boasts 15 LPGA titles and two Major wins since turning professional in 2014.

"I don't think I've ever cried in the other 14 (wins)," said Ko, who slipped to 18th in the world following a near two-year victory drought. "And I cried like four times in the span of two minutes which was kind of embarrassing.

"But you know it was emotional because (my family have) been through it with me, it's not like you're the only one out there. That's why it's so meaningful."

Up by one to start the day, she bogeyed three of her first six holes, but showed her championship mettle on a solid back nine.

Her chip from off the green at No. 18 in regulation kissed the edge of the cup, and she tapped in for birdie to complete a one-under 71 and force the play-off as she joined Lee (68) in the clubhouse on 12-under 276.

Ko turned 21 during the week and can now celebrate her triumph at a local bar, having passed the United States' legal drinking age. "We can officially celebrate with alcohol, champagne and (I'll) remember to take my ID," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Ko teary after eagle to end long title drought'. Print Edition | Subscribe