Jin Young Ko grabbed her towel walking up to the 18th green to wipe her eyes. The emotion of the past year was written on her face. After an injury to her left wrist wrecked her 2022 season, Ko defended her title at the HSBC Women’s World Championship, calling it the most important victory of her career.
When it was over, she doubled over on the final green as the tears poured out.
“It’s going to be big momentum for me in my life,” said Ko, who closed with a 69 to beat Nelly Korda by two strokes and win for the first time in 12 months.
Tears of joy
Jin young Ko wins the 2023 @HWWCGolf! pic.twitter.com/gWzPE46jIA
— LPGA (@LPGA) March 5, 2023
Ko has now won at least one title in each of the past six seasons. The 27-year-old has 14 career LPGA titles, including two majors. A $270,000 winner’s check moves her to 22nd on the LPGA career money list, passing Yani Tseng and Ariya Jutanugarn with $10,680,535.
Sentosa Golf Club received a month’s worth of rain in one week as LPGA players endured a number of rain delays, the last of which occurred Sunday when the final group was on the 16th hole.
“I actually didn’t honestly know if we were going to finish the last hole,” said Korda, who made birdie on 18 to jump into solo second. Danielle Kang, Allisen Corpuz and Ayaka Furue finished in a share of third.
The showdown between Ko and Korda is what many fans expected to play out all last season before health issues set them both back.
“It’s always hard to play with Nelly, especially on Sunday” said Ko. “We’ve been playing together yesterday, and today was second time. We had a lot of times to play in 2021. She hits farther than last year, I think. So I don’t look at her ball. I didn’t look at her ball or her playing. It’s hard but love to compete with Nelly.”
This marked the 15th playing of the HSBC, known as “Asia’s major.” All but two players who have won in Singapore are major champions. Ko now joins Inbee Park, who is out on maternity leave, as the only two-time champions.
Ko pushed back her winter training in December to rest her wrist and went to Europe to see the Northern Lights in Finland and tour The Louvre in Paris.
“I think it brings good luck for me because it’s really hard to see the Northern Lights when you go to Finland or Iceland,” said Ko, “but I take just one day that I saw the Northern Lights, and so it was lucky.”
Ko then spent a month in Vietnam working with her former swing coach, Si Woo Lee, and said she took a great deal of confidence from their time together. She also took up meditating during the offseason and felt that it helped bring more balance to her life.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the course,” she said of the long and demanding week, “and I just want to hear birds singing, and I just wanted to feel wind and air.”
For a player who likely wondered if her body would ever let her return to the form that saw her dominate the LPGA, finding pleasure in the small things has been key.
For Corpuz, this marked the 24-year-old’s third career top-five finish as she moves a step closer to her No. 1 goal of making the Solheim Cup team.
“Really happy with how I played,” said Corpuz, who birdied the last hole, “especially being with Jin Young and Nelly. So awesome to just watch them play well and kind of feel like I’m almost keeping up with them.”
Kang: ‘Have a beer on us’
Kang left Singapore proud of her efforts, noting that she’s continuing to test balls and wedges and likes the progress that’s been made.
But before Kang headed out, she handed out beers to those who made the week possible.
“Normally what we do is in America, my caddie and I, we go buy cases of beers, and I have him help me out and load them up and give them to the grounds crew and things,” she said. “This week, I thought the volunteers did an incredible job, so we add the volunteers this time, too.
“In Singapore, it’s expensive but it’s OK. They worked really hard to keep the golf course in the most championship condition possible and without them we would not have been able to play or finish 72 holes, so I just wanted to say thanks and have a beer on us.”