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California dreaming: Ko Jin-young just wants to have fun at LPGA major

July 5, 2023 - 09:13 By Yonhap
Jin Young Ko of South Korea hits a tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on June 25 in Springfield, New Jersey. (AFP-Yonhap)

It has been four years since Ko Jin-young last won a major on the LPGA Tour. But if the No. 1 female golfer in the world is feeling the pressure to end her drought this week at the US Women's Open, she isn't showing it.

"I just want to spend good time with my family and friends. That's my goal right now," Ko said at her pretournament press conference at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California, on Tuesday. The 78th US Women's Open tees off Thursday.

The tour is going back-to-back with major championships, having earlier staged the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in New Jersey from June 22 to 25. Ko, who finished tied for 20th there, used the off week to fly to California to start practicing early and, well, to have some fun.

"It's the first time," Ko said, when asked if she'd come to a golf course so early to prepare for a major. "I just wanted to enjoy the views, and I wanted to eat oysters in San Fran, so I got here early."

Ko, who played her first practice round at Pebble last Wednesday, flew her coach, Lee Si-woo, out to California this week. Ko said Lee doesn't travel to the United States often during a typical season but has already spent over 20 days there this year.

"If I'm doing really well about the swing motion or the swing key, it's going to be fun to play this golf course," Ko said, adding that the greens at Pebble have been "a little tricky" to read this week.

Ko acknowledged that it can be "really hard" to focus on her game at majors because of potential distractions around her. She usually has her manager and her caddie with her at tournaments, but for this week, she has "over six or seven people around me."

At the same time, Ko is counting her blessings as she is playing at Pebble Beach for the first time.

It is an iconic golf course, having provided the stage for some memorable championship moments, but it is hosting the US Women's Open for the first time this week. Ko, a student of the game, said she is familiar with the history of the place.

She said she watched Tiger Woods' dominant, 15-stroke win at the 2000 US Open at Pebble, plus Gary Woodland's win at the same tournament there in 2019.

"I'm really excited to play this golf course. I really wanted to play this golf course," she said. "My life is pretty good because I can play this place, so I think I'm a very lucky player."

Ko said she was also thankful to have received a congratulatory video from former world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, after Ko broke a tie with the Mexican legend for most weeks spent at the top of the world rankings with 159 last week.

Ko said Ochoa congratulated her and her caddie, David Brooker, on their success. Brooker was on Ochoa's bag for 21 of Ochoa's 27 titles from August 2006 to June 2009.

"I didn't realize I broke Lorena's record, and last Monday, I got some video from David," Ko said. "Then I realized, 'Oh my god!' I really love Lorena. I really want to be like Lorena in everything. I almost cried. I'm really thankful for Lorena. I think that's one of the great memories of my life." (Yonhap)