Eun-Hee Ji cruises past Lydia Ko for Tournament of Champions win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 20: Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea poses with the trophy after winning the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando on January 20, 2019 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Eun-Hee Ji cruises past Lydia Ko for Tournament of Champions win

Digital Edition

Eun-Hee Ji cruises past Lydia Ko for Tournament of Champions win

By

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Lydia Ko loved the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions so much that she hopes to win on the LPGA every season in large part to get back in the field. Strong stuff from a former No. 1.

“I was invited to play this event prior to this year,” said Ko of the previous PGA Champions event, “and I feel bad I didn’t play the previous years because it was so much fun.” 

A surprisingly ugly 6-over 77, that included two double-bogeys in a back-nine 42, kept Ko well out of the winner’s circle at Tranquilo. The cold and frigid temperatures of the final round put a damper on an otherwise sparkling event at the Four Seasons. 

Eun-Hee Ji, at 32 years, 8 months and 7 days, became the oldest South Korean to win on the LPGA since Se Ri Pak claimed the 2010 Bell Micro LPGA Classic at 32 years, 7 months and 18 days. A closing 70 gave Ji her third title in 15 months, finishing two strokes ahead of Mirim Lee. John Smoltz won the celebrity division, finishing three points ahead of Mark Mulder in the modified stableford format. It marked his first golf victory of significance, outside of club championships and friendly wagers. 

“I can’t tell you how good Marty (Fish) and really the top five or six guys in this field are,” said Smoltz. “The conditions today were brutal and hard, and you had to grind, and I learned a lot from just my past year of qualifying for the Senior Open. That, to me, has prepared me to kind of grind out a game when you’re just – I’m not even close to where I want to be, but I’m getting closer.” 

Ji and Ko headed into the final round knotted atop the board, but two consecutive bogeys from Ji to start the round dropped her back in a hurry.

She chipped in for birdie from 15 yards out on the third hole to get her head back in the game. Down the stretch, Ji relied on her sister to find out where she stood on the leaderboard. 

Ji went 8 years, 3 months and 10 days (203 starts) between victories at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open and 2017 Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship and has now won three consecutive seasons. She said the drought stemmed from changing her swing soon after winning the Women’s Open.

“I couldn’t hit a ball for eight years,” she said. “I hit it way right, way left, and I really struggled with my swing. But I just kept focusing on my game. I just tried my best, all my best.” 

A revamped swing and stronger mental game led her out of the drought. 

“I think she’s one of those players that nothing really fazes her,” Ko said of Ji. “I played with her quite a few times when she won. I played with her in Taiwan a couple years ago when she won … I was joking to (her caddie) Martin (Bozeic) that she could have stopped playing and me played another nine holes that maybe I would have caught up to her. That’s how good she was playing.” 

One of the most intriguing storylines at the TOC was the return of Stacy Lewis, who gave birth to daughter Chesnee Lynn on Oct. 25. Lewis tied for sixth in her first start since July, saying she was pleased not only with her game, but how well things went off the course balancing travel with an infant. 

Lewis won’t compete on the LPGA again until the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in March. She heads back to Houston where she plans to play as much as she can to regain the speed in her swing. The former No. 1 was particularly pleased with her putting and wedges, and said her legs held up well too after four rounds. 

Like many LPGA players, Lewis enjoyed the celebrity aspect of the tournament, noting that they didn’t take themselves too seriously. 

“If I win a tournament I’m coming back just because it’s a Tournament of Champions more than anything,” said Lewis. “You did something pretty special to get here to win a tournament. It’s hard to win on this tour. I just don’t think people should take that for granted.” 

As Lewis wrapped up her final interview of the week, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan ducked in and said, “It’s supposed to be harder than that.” 

Lewis laughed and replied: “It is, trust me.”

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home