New Zealand golf star Lydia Ko said Tuesday she wants to make a special memory in her country of birth by winning a major tournament on the South Korean tour.
Ko will make her first Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association tour appearance in South Korea when she tees off at the 19th Hite Jinro Championship this week. The event, which is one of the five KLPGA major tournaments, will be held at Blue Heron Golf Club in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, from Thursday to Sunday.
Ko did have one KLPGA win after triumphing at the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in 2013. But that event was co-sanctioned with the Taiwanese LPGA and was staged in Taiwan.
“My first title as professional golfer was a KLPGA event, and I really wanted to play a KLPGA major tournament,” Ko said at a press conference in Seoul. “I have big expectations for this event, and since I was born in South Korea, I believe it could be a special memory.”
Lydia Ko (Yonhap)
Ko was born in Seoul in 1997, but she emigrated to New Zealand in 2003 with her family and earned New Zealand citizenship in 2009.
As tradition, the winner of the Hite Jinro Championship, which is sponsored by local brewing company Hite Jinro, has been drinking a large cup of beer after the tournament. Ko said she isn’t sure about winning the competition, but if she lifts the trophy, she may burst into tears.
“If I win a KLPGA event in my birthplace, I might cry and that means I could be out of control,” she said. “I’m not a good drinker, but I want to celebrate with my fans and families if I win. It will be memorable celebration with beer. But I’ll probably get drunk if I drank that amount of beer.”
Ko, once a top-ranked golfer, now sits at 17th in the world rankings. She went winless in 26 starts in 2017 after starting the season with a new caddie and new coach. Ko said she doesn’t regret making changes.
“I made lots of changes last year and I think I’m having a time for adjustments,” she said. “I decided to make changes, hoping that I can improve my game. Although I lost some weight, my driving distance didn’t go down, so I think I’m moving in the right direction.”
Ko said her win at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in April was one of the decisive moments in her career.
“I had lots of feelings when I won the Mediheal Championship,” she said. “I often said you don’t cry when you’re happy, but the first thing that I had at that time was tears. That win was a decisive moment for me not only for this season, but for my career.”
Ko said that compared to her prime season in 2015, when she was named the LPGA Player of the Year and won the money title, her recent performance may not be impressive, but she claimed that she has become a better person.
“Last year, Stacy Lewis gave me advice, saying that what’s happened in the past is just the past and you need to enjoy this moment, and those words moved me,” she said. “My current performance may not be impressive, but if you measure how much I have learned and improved since, I give big credit to myself.”
At age 21, Ko already has 15 wins on the LPGA tour with two major titles. When asked about her breaking the LPGA career wins record held by Kathy Whitworth, Ko said she just wants to focus on her game.
“I heard that she had 88 wins on the tour and she is the legend of the legends,” she said. “I think every golfer has his or her own golf life. My goal is always to enjoy playing golf and compete with a learner’s mindset. Even if I don’t play well, I always want to think about things that I can learn.”