Top-ranked Ko makes 2020 LPGA debut at new Florida event

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – World number one Ko Jin-young of South Korea will make her 2020 LPGA debut this week in the inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair, Florida in the United States (US).

Ko opted not to travel when the LPGA tour resumed after its coronavirus shutdown, preferring to stay home in South Korea and compete on the KLPGA tour.

She skipped her title defense at the pandemic-delayed ANA Inspiration in September, and returns to the LPGA tour for the first time in almost a year.

“I was shocked,” Ko said of her initial reaction to the tour shut-down in February. “It was a great decision, but it was a tough time. I’m happy to be back here.

“I’m doing great,” added the 25-year-old, who said she spent a lot of time on practice but also occupied herself with cooking classes and meditation.

She finished 14th on the KLPGA money list, earning three top-10 finishes in six starts.

Her LPGA return comes four weeks before the US Women’s Open, which is followed by the CME Group Tour championship.

Ko’s world ranking gets her into the US Women’s Open but she must earn enough points on the LPGA tour to qualify for the Tour Championship, despite being the tour’s 2019 leading money winner and player of the year with four victories.

“That’s my goal, because I can’t play right now at the CME,” Ko said. “So I want to do my best two weeks, this week and then Dallas and then until the US Open.”

The tournament brings the LPGA back to the Tampa Bay area for the first time since the 1989 St Petersburg Women’s Open.

Ko said the course was in oustanding condition, but said she’d found the wind challenging during practice rounds.

The tournament was among the many put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, pushed back from its original date in May.

Ko, a six-time LPGA tour winner, said she was trying to dial in some swing changes aimed at improving her short game, no easy task in a disrupted season.

“It’s so much different as last year, because last year I had a lot of tournaments, maybe over 20 events,” she said. “So I need to find feeling on the course.

“It is tough, but it’s getting better, better and better. And then I want to do more consistency under 100 metres,” added Ko. “I play 17 years, over 17 years, so it’s tough to change the swing. It’s easy to change small amounts, but changing in a big amount can be difficult. So I’m trying to be better under 100 metres, short game.”

Ko acknowledged to feeling some nerves as she prepared for her LPGA return on an unfamiliar course.

“It is tough,” Ko said. “But it is the same condition to every player. So it’s tough, but I think I will enjoy it.”