For some, the beauty of the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year race is that simple math matters, and Jin Young Ko knew exactly what had to be done to win the award a second time: win the CME Group Tour Championship .
The race of the season ended in the last round of the year, in which the two best players in the world competed side by side in the final group. Ko delivered a stunning knock-out blow with the top 63 of his career to win the tournament and world number 1 Nelly Korda by 14 points to win the POY title.
It was a statement victory to end the first chapter of a hopefully long-term rivalry between the two. Ko, who became the first South Korean player to win POY twice, won five LPGA titles that year versus Korda four.
“I’m a little bit sad for Nelly,” said Ko, “but I was a little luckier than her.”
The Tour hasn’t seen a season like this – with two players going back and forth – since Ariya Jutanugarn and Lydia Ko won five and four times respectively in 2016.
“They have two very different games,” said Lydia Ko, who said she felt like a third wheel playing alongside the pair in Round 1 of the CME. “Even if their strengths are similar, their games are very different.
“I think it just shows that there is so much talent here. It doesn’t take one type of player to be that dominant. It can be very different. “
The first half of the year undoubtedly belonged to Korda, who won her first major title at the KPMG Women’s PGA and Olympic gold in Tokyo. However, the gold medal does not count as Player of the Year as it is not an official LPGA event. There are some who believe this should change.
Ko played 19 official LPGA events up to Kordas 17 this season, which gave her more opportunities to earn points. Only top 10 positions earn you points, and in the majors they are worth twice as much. Ko led the tour to Korda’s 10th with 13 top 10s this season.
Ko’s constancy in the second half of the season was downright legendary. Her streak of 14 consecutive rounds in the 1960s set a record held by Annika Sorenstam and So Yeon Ryu.
Ko won five of her last nine events in 2021 and turned out to be a Sunday magician, averaging 66.89 in the finals during this stretch. In her last nine starts, 29 of 33 laps were in the 60s, and she had more wins than laps in the 70s. She hit 87.8 percent of the greens during this time.
During the CME, Ko hit an astonishing 63 consecutive greens in regulation while battling a sore left wrist that first flared in the spring. She didn’t warm up all week in Naples from taking full shots over a wedge. Ko plans to have an MRI on her wrist when she returns to South Korea.
When asked if she could have won more if she had been healthy, she said yes.
“The beginning of the year, maybe May, June, July wasn’t good,” she said. “But Tokyo in particular was so bad. So now I just want to go back to Tokyo. “
Ko is the kind of gamer who is up to any occasion, be it a birdie bet for dinner with her caddy David Brooker or a Player of the Year. She reacts to carrots. While some players try to downplay lofty goals, Ko is the guy who does math every time she wins a trophy. It takes 27 points to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, and Ko knows better than anyone that she is now only 10 points away.
In four short years on the tour, Ko has 12 titles, including two majors, and only two missed cuts in 70 starts. As for next, Ko said she will put the rest of the check for $ 1.5 million after tax in the bank and settle in South Korea during the off-season.
“I want to enjoy Christmas,” she says. “I don’t want to think about the schedule for next year just yet. But I had a great year, won five times and I’m very happy about it. “
Photos: LPGA CME Group Tour Championship 2021