Jin Young Ko earns 1st LPGA win at Hana Bank Championship

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Jin Young Ko earns 1st LPGA win at Hana Bank Championship

LPGA Tour

Jin Young Ko earns 1st LPGA win at Hana Bank Championship

A player named Ko finally won again on the LPGA, just not the Kiwi everyone expected. 

What seemed destined to become a heavyweight battle took a surprising turn when Jin Young Ko upstaged two of South Korea’s biggest stars. Ko, no relation to Lydia, overcame a shaky start with four birdies in the span of five holes to deny Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. 

Record crowds came out to watch Park and Chun compete in the final group alongside Ko. Park, the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open champion, had a chance to unseat So Yeon Ryu as World No. 1 on home soil. Instead, Park finished runner-up for a second time at the Hana Bank, closing with a 4-under 68.

“In the final grouping, I was able to really realize just how many fans In Gee and Sung Hyun have,” said Ko of the 31,726 supporters who lined the Ocean Course on Sunday. “When we were walking from hole to hole, the gallery would be cheering for them, and I couldn’t really hear my name. 

Ko, 22, first gained notoriety on a worldwide stage at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open, where it took a monumental effort from Ko’s idol, Inbee Park to defeat her. Ko was an unknown that week at Turnberry, but turned heads with the puffy fur-lined jacket she put on between shots. 

A nine-time winner on the Korean LPGA, Ko closed with a 68 at Hana Bank to finish at 19 under, a record low since the tournament was extended to four rounds in 2014. Park finished two shots back in solo second while two-time major winner Chun was alone in third at 16 under. 

“It’s really meaningful for me, especially since a few years back when I was playing with In Gee and Sung Hyun, unwillingly and unintentionally we were kind of caught up in the media’s eyes in a rivalry,” said Ko, who now has the option to join the LPGA immediately or can defer membership status to the 2018 season.

Ko credited a long chat with her caddie Dean Herden, for keeping her calm after she made bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3. Herden caddied for Chun when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2015. 

“He kept reminding me that being nervous was quite natural,” said Ko, “that I needed to accept those nerves.”

Park, a two-time winner this season, still has designs to nab the top spot.

“There are still many events left this season, and I think that’s the type of goal you continue to work hard to reach,” said Park. “There are events left, so I’ll just give it my best shot.”

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