Dominant season: Jin Young Ko looks to complete clean sweep at CME

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Dominant season: Jin Young Ko looks to complete clean sweep at CME

LPGA Tour

Dominant season: Jin Young Ko looks to complete clean sweep at CME

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NAPLES, Fla. – When Jin Young Ko booked a two-week session with Gareth Raflewski after last year’s CME Group Tour Championship, the short-game coach worried about the South Korean rookie’s limited English. And would he even have enough material for two weeks?

Ko quickly put an end to those concerns. Her ability to communicate has improved at warp speed after two years on the LPGA. And her short game?

Well, she’s on the brink of one of the most dominant seasons in LPGA history. A four-time winner this year, Ko has the chance to join Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008), Yani Tseng (2011) and Ariya Jutanugarn (2018) as the only players to win the Vare Trophy, Money Title and Rolex Player of the Year in the same season while ranked No. 1.

CME Group Tour Championship: Round 1 tee times, TV info

Ko estimates that her short game has improved 70 percent while working with Raflewski.

“I’m always in awe with her short game,” said two-time winner Nelly Korda.

Raflewski, who has worked with several top players on the LPGA, including the Jutanugarn sisters and Lydia Ko, said Jin Young is now phenomenal inside 7 feet.

After last year’s CME, Raflewski took Jin Young Ko out on the course at Tiburon Golf Club and they went over all the shots around the greens that she couldn’t hit. But it wasn’t just about learning new shots, it was about knowing when to hit them too. Each week Raflewski was out this season with Ko – 13 in all – he’d quiz her on which shots to hit in various scenarios. At the CP Women’s Open in Ontario, Ko said all the right things.

“I guess I’m not needed anymore,” Raflewski cracked.

Growing up, Ko studied YouTube videos of Brad Faxon’s putting stroke. At last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, Ko met Faxon for the first time and shook his hand.

“Then I got one-putt, No. 1, 2, 3 holes,” said Ko, “and then I told to my caddie, I don’t want to like, hand wash.”

While Faxon might get credit for the start, Raflewski quickly changed Ko’s posture and setup last fall. She had a stiff back, with her hands quite low and too much movement in the wrists. Her forearms, Raflewski said, were always aimed a bit left.

On Monday in Naples, Ko put a new Ping prototype in the bag.

“She had a bit too much loft on the putter,” he said, “and the ball was bouncing a bit. The ball is hugging the ground more, so it should be a bit truer.”

Ko leads the tour in greens in regulation at 79.15 percent. She’s also fourth in putts per green in regulation.

That combination helps explain her 69.05 scoring average, 0.76 lower than last year. Hyo Joo Kim would need to beat Ko by 23 strokes to beat Ko for the Vare Trophy.

Ko leads the tour in earnings with $2,714,281, but anyone as low as 10th on the money list could clip her for the money title given the record-setting $1.5 million payout on the line.

The most impressive aspect of Ko’s sophomore campaign is her remarkable consistency (i.e. bogey-free streak of 114 holes). Jaye Marie Green went 59 holes without a bogey when she won the 2013 LPGA Q-School.

“Imagine double that?” asked Green. “It just blew my mind.”

So far the only thing that has slowed Ko down is a recent left ankle injury suffered in Taiwan, her fifth consecutive event. Ko said she ices her ankle for 20 minutes each day and worries even now about how it will hold up this week.

After withdrawing from the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, Ko returned home to South Korea. Last Monday, she went to the hospital and got a shot in her ankle. She then rested before coming to Naples.

Regardless of what happens this week, Ko can revel in a year in which she has experienced massive growth both on and off the golf course. Her peers say she is as kind and humble as she is talented.

“You know when someone dominates like that you want to not like them,” said Green, “but she’s impossible not to like.”

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