World number one Ko Jin-young of South Korea chases the major golf title she most dreamed about when the Covid-19 delayed US Women’s Open begins on Thursday in Houston, Texas.
The 25-year-old from Seoul, a two-time major champion, spent most of the year in her homeland after the pandemic shut down the LPGA Tour from February to the end of July.
But Ko came to the United States last month and played in two tuneup events, placing fifth last week in Dallas, to prepare for the year’s final major at Champions Golf Club.
One of Ko’s earliest golf memories was watching South Korea’s Pak Se-ri win the 1988 US Women’s Open just seven weeks after taking her first major title at the LPGA Championship.
“When I was three years old I watched the TV on my father’s knee about Se Ri’s win when she won this tournament and then I saw that I want to play the golf, so I started,” Ko said Tuesday.
“So yeah, I want to get the US Open trophy.”
Ko captured her first two major titles last year at the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship, but has not played a major event this year, only returning ahead of the Open and next week’s season-ending LPGA Tour Championship.
“To be honest, it feels weird because I’m playing in December around Christmas Day. It’s the first time,” Ko said. “But the course is tough, and then everyone looks nervous, too, so it’s fun.”
Because of the large field and limited daylight hours, the first two rounds will be played over two courses, Cypress and Jack Rabbit.
“It’s tough. I have to play two courses, but 18 holes for the practice round. It’s a little bit tiring to me,” Ko said. “But this is the same condition for everyone, so I can accept. I will look forward for the tournament.”
Ko expects her driver distance and accuracy will be crucial.
“I want to try little hit like strong driver,” she said. “I will just keep my swing and my energy. That’s all.
“Cypress is bigger. The greens are big, way big. And then the fairways are narrow. So I like Cypress course more because the setup and everything is like more clear.
“But I like Jack Rabbit, too. Jack Rabbit’s greens are smaller than Cypress. I think I will play every club in the bag this course.”
Among Ko’s top rivals this week will be second-ranked Kim sei-young of South Korea, who won her first major title in October at the Women’s PGA Championship.
She followed that with her 12th LPGA title last month at the Pelican Women’s Championship in Ko’s LPGA return event.
Kim has the chance to overtake Ko for the world number one spot this week.
“Obviously it would feel incredible,” Kim said. “Since I was young, I dreamt of being number one in the world one day, and I’m glad that I have a chance to do that.”
Kim feels greater pressure now that she is a major champion.
“I think there’s a bit more pressure being a major champion coming to a major tournament, but again, nothing is going to change with my preparation,” she said. “I’m going to try to stay composed and try to finish strong.”
Kim, who skipped last week’s event to practice twice in Houston, is the LPGA’s hottest player with two wins in her past three starts, a form she credits to consistency.
“I felt like previously my game fluctuated quite a bit throughout the season,” she said. “But this season what has been different was I was able to be consistent with my performance. “And because I’m playing well, I just want to continue on this momentum and try to finish strong.”*AFP