History and Change for Golfers Named Ko

Jin Young Ko Wins Women’s Australian While Lydia Still Searching

For people of my age group, it is often necessary to remind ourselves that the touring golfers we observe, great as they may be, are not yet at the height of their powers. That only underscores how great they really are. Typically, we expect a new member of the professional tour to pass through a period of transformation, learning the ropes, despite some sensational moments along the way. That is why this weekend’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open victory by Jin Youn Ko caught my eye Her win was certainly impressive, as she led from beginning to end, something we don’t see all that often on the LPGA. Ko came in three strokes better than Nyejin Chai.

In winning the Australian, Ko became only the second person in history to win her first tournament on tour, since Beverly Hanson did it in 1951. Nothing tarnishes Ko’s excellent play this week, but the history-making reality sounded at first as if some unheralded kid had stood the golf world on its ear, coming from nowhere to upset the greats. It did not happen that way. Jin Young Ko may have been playing somewhat under radar, and most of us probably thought that there was only one winner out there bearing the name, but this Ko has been winning for a while In her time with the LPGA Korea Tour, she is a nine-time victor, and has played on the LPGA before, even as a non-member.  In 2015, she came around to a three-shot lead at the Ricoh British Open, eventually losing it to a  person who does that sort of thing all the time – Inbee Park. Just imagine if Ko could have hung on that day. We would have heard more of her long before now, and would be reading articles about how a non-LPGA member upended the ruling order. It is worth adding that Jin Young Ko obtained her LPGA membership by winning the KEB Hana Bank Championship. There’s nothing like winning to generate more winning. In a seemingly bottomless well of great Korean golfers, Ko is the most recent to emerge, and will likely become an enduring name through the coming years.
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As for the Ko who was a kid when she overthrew critical expectations, the New Zealander is still in a state of flux. I don’t believe it constitutes a crisis, at least not from this distance. Lydia may feel differently. Nevertheless, she has recently taken over her own decision-making. Such a step is inevitable, and can be rocky at times. Yet another swing coach has appeared on the scene in the form of Ted Oh, with credentials to burn. Another caddie is on Ko’s bag as well, Johnny Scott.

I have no doubts about Ko’s qualifications for making such decisions, and surrounding herself with the people who will do her the most good. However, this was a super-kid who won two Canadian Opens barely out of her mid-teens, and perhaps she is accustomed to things happening quickly. I wonder if she takes all the time necessary to see if a particular swing idea or a specific coach is going to grow into just the right combination. Fortunately, Ko has not stopped playing reasonably well, but she is coming off her first season without a victory, and for a talent like that, such a statistic is unacceptable. Beginning the Australian with a 68 reminds us that she’s not in Tiger Woods trouble. Still, I hope that not enjoying instant results will not cause habitual knee-jerk change.
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In the two female golfers named Ko, we have a twenty-something rookie veteran who has been winning quietly all along, and won on the right week to claim a bit of history. On the other hand, we have an undeniable prodigy who is still working out her stuff as an adult. I can’t help but think that both are going to be just fine, but there may be a little wincing along the way.

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