JIN YOUNG KO, A STAR TIMES TWO
In what was the perfect production of a tournament, Jin Young Ko, the World No 1, won the HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa by two from Australia’s Minjee Lee and In Gee Chun. It may have been Ko’s first event of the season but it was her sixth win in her last ten events. At the same time, her closing 66 increased her record of scores in the 60s to 15 – a record which looked as if it could stretch for ever judging by the way she went tearing into the lead with a series of birdies at the finish.
Jin Young Ko (Photo credit: Getty Image)
Yet in this instance, the win was not quite as comfortable as it looked for, when Ko and Jeongeun Lee6 mounted the last tee, they were level on -16 with In Gee Chun still very much in the picture on -15.
Ko had followed a bogey at the 12th with four birdies in a row and, though there was a regular par at the short 17th, she unleashed the optimum drive down the home fairway. Next, she ignored the looming bunkers as she delivered her second to some 15 feet. Lee6, whose tee shot had leaked to the right, was by then ensnared by one of those traps, while Chun played the hole via the rough.
Ko’s follow-up trick was to hole that 15-footer for a finishing flourish of a birdie – her fifth in the last six holes – which allowed her to stand to one side as her companions tidied up. Lee6 ended with a glaring six while Chun did well to hole from six feet for the par which saw her sharing second place with Minjee Lee whose closing 63 was the low round of the tournament. Would you believe that Minjee, with a luminous grin to go with psychedelic green skirt, had seven birdies on her homeward 30.
At the end of the day the winner said she had played well but that it had been “tough to go round playing with two amazing Korean players.” Then she added a line which explained why. “We’re close friends, you see.” She went on to say that her closing birdies were all about a level of confidence which only put in an appearance at the start of the back nine.
In the first available moment after her victory, Ko had a brief session on Facetime with her parents who, like herself, never stopped smiling.
Spectators, though they had not been a feature of the event up until the end because of the Covid restrictions, had materialised as if by magic at the finish. And thank heavens they did, for what a travesty it would have been had one of the best days in the history of the LPGA had been without goodly number of witnesses round the 18th green.
Atthaya Thitikul, the Thai player who is still only 19, was in the fray until she missed short putts over the last three holes. Asked to explain if it had anything to do with the pressure, the teenager did not mind saying that it was not the easiest to be a young player of whom so much was expected. “Everyone’s eyes are on me and the pressure comes with it,” she said.
Atthaya Thitikul (Photo credit: Getty Image)
Thitikul first played in the HSBC as a 15-year-old amateur and, though her golf has become so much more polished, her lovely on-course demeanour has never changed.
She has never blamed anyone other than herself for a mistake and there was an unforgettable moment in that first appearance when, after she was short with her second shot to the eighth, there was no dark look for her caddie, a fellow called Yod. Instead, she turned to him and said, “I’m so sorry!”
Yod laughed, and she was soon following suit.
That same week in Singapore, Michelle Wie, who had come within a shot of making the cut in a men’s tour event at the age of 14, recalled the days when she had been so full of hope. “Today, when my age-group see these doey-eyed new girls, we marvel at how cool it is that they are doing so well. At the same time, though, we’re saying ‘just wait’!”
Wie knows as well as anyone how the early magic can be punctuated by down-times.
Thitikul so far, has known nothing more than the odd minor blip and, hopefully, it will be a case of full steam ahead as she makes her first appearance in Thailand this coming week as an LPGA professional.