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LPGA Player of the Year Ko Jin-young hungry for more glory

By Yoo Jee-ho, Yonhap News Agency
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LPGA Player of the Year Ko Jin-young hungry for more glory
Brooke Henderson and Gaby Lopez spray Ko Jin-young of South Korea with champagne as she celebrates on the 18th green in the final round after winning the LPGA Cognizant Founders Cup at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., on October 10. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 27 (UPI) -- After just four seasons on the LPGA Tour, South Korean star Ko Jin-young has already accomplished more than what most other golfers would love to achieve in their entire careers.

But Ko, 26, isn't satisfied.

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In a Zoom press conference with the South Korean media Monday, Ko said she feels she still has so much room for improvement.

If Ko can somehow get better after an outstanding 2021 season, in which she won the Player of the Year award and the money title thanks to a tour-best five victories, then it is truly a frightening proposition for her opponents.

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"I feel like I still have a ways to go. I have already identified areas for improvement, be it mentally, physically and technically, and mapped out offseason training plans accordingly," Ko said. "I would like to become more consistent next year."

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Ko could have been forgiven for patting herself on the back and taking her foot off the gas a bit. But she said she has no trouble finding a source of motivation.

"Just having a chance to play in LPGA tournaments provides enough fuel for me," Ko said. "If I had stayed in Korea, I'd be spending more time with my family and friends. But I gave up on all of that to go play in the U.S. I push myself at every tournament because I know I've made a lot of sacrifices, and I want to make them count."

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And those sacrifices have been quite worthwhile so far.

In October 2017, Ko, then still a Korean LPGA player, earned her U.S. LPGA membership by winning the LPGA KEB-Hana Bank Championship. Then in February 2018, Ko won her first LPGA tournament as a member, and hasn't looked back since.

Ko was the tour's Rookie of the Year in 2018, its Player of the Year in 2019 and collected the top player award for the second time this year. She has also won LPGA's past three money titles. Ko has 12 LPGA wins so far, including two major victories.

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Ko called winning the Player of the Year her most gratifying moment in 2021, and she would love to repeat it in 2022. Otherwise, she isn't really into setting specific statistical goals.

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"I learned earlier in my career that setting particular goals doesn't really motivate me," she said. "My goal is to focus on my process. I am ready to put in the work again."

In the points race for this year's top player award, Ko edged out Nelly Korda of the United States 211-197. Korda had been in the lead going into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, but Ko won that tournament to rally past Korda on the last day of the season.

Korda enjoyed a stronger first half than Ko, collecting three of her four wins for 2021 while capturing her first career major title and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

The second half belonged to Ko, who picked up four victories over her final seven starts of the season.

Also during that run, Ko tied an LPGA record by scoring in the 60s in 14 consecutive rounds. After the streak was snapped in the first round of the BMW Ladies Championship in October, Ko began a new one by shooting in the 60s in her next 11 straight rounds.

Ko said she has remained friendly with Korda despite their budding rivalry, and that she has a lot to learn from the 23-year-old American.

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"From tee to green, she is an outstanding player. She hits the ball far and straight, and she can hit so many different types of shots," Ko gushed about Korda. "I don't think there is anything I do better than Nelly. She is mature beyond her age and she has a beautiful swing."

Ko said she is "grateful" that she has been able to win at least one tournament every season since her LPGA debut. To keep that streak alive and prepare herself for a long grind, Ko said she has been trying to improve her conditioning, endurance and flexibility.

"I'll try to have as much fun as I can next year and never to forget my roots and where I come from," Ko said. "I want to improve both as a golfer and as a person."

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