Ko Jin-young held off the challenge of world number two Park Sung-hyun and double major champion Chun In-gee to capture the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship title and earn herself a golden ticket to the lucrative US women’s tour.
Two shots clear overnight, Ko shot a four-under-par 68 on Sunday to finish on a combined 19-under, two strokes ahead of Park and three clear of Chun, her two Korean playing partners in a dream final grouping for tournament organisers.
Ko currently plays on the domestic Korean Tour but the quality of her play over four days at SKY72 Golf and Resort in Incheon, west of Seoul, suggests the 22-year-old will have no trouble adapting to life on the elite U.S. LPGA Tour if she chooses to accept the place her victory brings.
“This victory means so much to me,” Ko told reporters. “I was playing against exceptional players that rank much higher than me on the global ranking. So I was able to watch and learn a lot today as well.
“I was quite flustered after I made those two bogeys on the front nine. Today I really realized once again that with golf you have to stick until the end to know.”
Ko said she would need some time to think about whether she will make the switch to the United States. “I haven’t really given it much thought because I hadn’t imagined I would be given the opportunity,” she said.
“There is another major event in the KLPGA that starts next week, so my mind was more on that.” Park, who could have supplanted Ryu So-yeon as world number one had she won the $2 million tournament, picked up four strokes through 11 holes to storm into the lead as Ko started poorly, dropping shots at the second and third.
But Ko was flawless the rest of the way and a stretch of three consecutive birdies from the seventh put her back in the driving seat, and while she held her nerve over the closing nine it was Park who faltered, three-putt bogeys on 14 and 16 sealing her fate.
“Obviously Jin-young was outstanding today,” said a disappointed Park, who looks certain to win the LPGA Rookie of the Year award and leads the official money standings.
Becoming world number one is still very much a possibility for the 24-year-old, who left Korea to join the U.S. Tour at the end of last season and bagged her first major at the U.S. Women’s Open in July.
“I think that’s the type of goal you continue to work hard to reach,” she said. “There are events left, so I’ll just give it my best shot.”
Current world number one Ryu finished with a two-under 70 to end tied for eighth on 10-under, alongside defending champion Carlota Ciganda (72), Brooke Henderson (72) and Angel Yin (73).