Lydia Ko lay on the grass alongside the 18th green at the Tiburon Golf Club in Florida, posing with her bevy of trophies.
Smiling from ear to ear, it said it all on an uncharacteristically cool day in Naples, Florida, where the 25-year-old Kiwi won the LPGA Tour’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship on Monday (NZT).
Sure, there wasn’t room for the record US$2 million (NZ$3.25 million) pay cheque she’d not long been presented for the photo, but the three trophies in front of her carried extra significance, given they pulled her to within reach of one of her primary career goals – the LPGA Hall of Fame (HOF).
Having nabbed a point for her 19th career win, another for bagging her second player-of-the-year trophy, and a third for securing a second straight Vare Trophy (lowest scoring average), Ko is now just two points shy of the 27 required for HOF entry.
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“If I could ever go in the Hall of Fame, it would be really cool,” Ko said after completing a memorable season, one in which she won three times for the first time since 2016, and recorded 14 top-10 finishes.
“Especially with so many of the big names and the legends that are in the Hall of Fame. I’m sure that’s going to be all the questions that everybody here is going to ask me next year as well.”
To think Ko came close to a couple of other accolades, including most prize money in a season. However, she finished US$591 shy of Lorena Ochoa’s 2007 mark. Ko’s big pay day pushed her 2022 winnings to US$4,364,403.
Had American Nelly Korda finished 21st or lower (she finished tied for 10th), world No 3 Ko would have catapulted to the world No 1 ranking.
Regardless, having finished 17-under the card and edged Irishwoman Leona Maguire by two strokes to record her second wire-to-wire of the year, Ko is flying high 10 years after becoming the youngest winner (15) on the LPGA Tour.
So, does that mean Ko’s mother will stop “harassing” her about playing as well as she did a decade ago – something Ko last week said her mother sometimes joked about.
“Oh, hell no. I’m still 5 in my mom’s eyes. No, definitely not, but I think my mom especially keeps me super grounded,” Ko said, before piling credit on her mother.
Ko went on to tell reporters of a trip to the US in 2013, when she competed in the junior world championships in San Diego, reliving her mother printing out five pieces of paper with instructions for how to get to the tournament venue from Los Angeles International Airport.
“She’s been through that with me since day one, driving in a foreign country, driving eight hours with me to junior events back in New Zealand,” Ko reflected.
“I know that she might be one of my toughest critics, but at the same time I know that she says that because she wants me to just keep growing, and I think she keeps me really humble. I should say thank you more often, but I don’t end up saying that. It’s easier to say it when she’s not here. But I have to thank her because she does everything for me.”
Ko, who is working under swing coach Ted Oh for the second time in her career after moving on from Sean Foley last month, has boosted her career earnings to US$16,695,357, fifth all-time.
Swede Annika Sorenstam, who mustered US$22,583,693 during her career, tops the money list.
Ko could well mow her down by the time she retires, even if she does call it quits when she’s 30, as she’s reiterated on numerous occasions.
But that’s the last thing on her mind. Ko has her off-season wedding to Chung Jun to plan.
Speaking of Jun, who Ko met before her drought-breaking win at the Lotte Championship last April and calls her “lucky charm”, he was on hand to watch Ko make history in Naples.
“For a while, when things weren’t going great in my career, I would – my identity felt so connected to golf,” Ko said.
“After meeting him, I’ve actually wanted to work harder during the times that I am working and then also enjoy time off. I think I probably had a few more breaks than I did two, three years ago. But I think that’s just only helped me to be more focused and be more on when I’m actually doing my work.”