NAPLES, Fla.—Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda have foiled each other from running away in the Rolex World Rankings heading into this week’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. But Ko’s resurgent three victories in her last six starts to challenge the World No. 1 nearly didn’t happen, as Ko contemplated walking away from the LPGA Tour after her grandmother’s passing in March of this year.
“I would say I don’t really want to play golf in this tour,” Ko said on Tuesday. “Yeah, because if I did play in KLPGA I could meet her [Ko’s grandmother], but this tour—I love this tour—but it’s too far from Korea to here, so I couldn’t get to Korea before when she passed away. That’s first time I really don’t want to play in LPGA Tour.”
Compounding the grief was Ko’s inability to say goodbye in person. She said goodbye over Facetime and couldn’t make the trip back home quickly enough due to South Korea’s two-week COVID-19 quarantine policy.
Ko’s middle of the 2021 season reflected the internal battle she faced. While she finally broke through for her first victory of the year at the Volunteers of America Classic over the Fourth of July, she posted three finishes outside the top-45 around the win.
Following an over month-long break in South Korea working with her coach, Si Woo Lee, after the Olympics, Ko’s motivation to stay at home on the KLPGA turned into her desire to find the LPGA winner’s circle consistently.
“She [Ko’s Grandma] really wants to see I made a lot of putts,” Ko laughed while explaining. “If I missed a lot of putts, after the tournament she called me, ‘Why did you do that? More focus on the putting green and we’ve made it.’ So I try keep putting hard, practice hard for putting, and I won, I win a lot of tournaments.”
Ko’s run of three victories in September and October briefly vaulted the South Korean to her third reign atop the World Rankings and featured 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s and the 200th victory by a South Korean in LPGA history. Then Nelly Korda reclaimed the No. 1 title with a win in the Pelican Women’s Championship last week. The run helped Ko rediscover the form that led to two major wins among four victories in the 2019 campaign.
“In 2019 I had a lot of confidence from the early of the year to end of the season,” Ko said, “But this year is really different. Early this year I don’t had confidence for the golf course, for my swing, or my mental—everything.
“Even especially her passed away, I really don’t want to play golf. But after that, I got something after the Olympics, I played well after the Olympics.”
Ko has finished inside the top six in every start since returning to the LPGA following the Olympics. Ko’s confidence from her recent play has made her believe she’s playing as good as ever heading into her title defense at the CME Group Tour Championship.
“Feels really good and my swing or my game is almost perfect,” Ko said. “If I made more putts, I can do a win again.”