On Saturday night at the Evian Championship, as rain pounded down outside, Lorena Ochoa was honored for her work with underprivileged children. in her home country of Mexico. The following morning, the former world No. 1 was introduced to Jin Young Ko. Dave Brooker, Ko’s caddie, used to work for the charismatic Ochoa, who retired in 2010 after a career which saw her win two major championships. “It was really great to meet Lorena this morning,” Ko said.
“She said, ‘Try to make many birdies.’ I said, ‘So, okay, I will try.’ I was happy and then I’m falling in love with Lorena.” Inspired by the meeting, Ko went out and won her second major title — the second in four attempts after she triumphed at the ANA Inspiration. Since then Ko has been teaching herself English via YouTube videos and the 24-year-old from Seoul conducted all her media duties at Evian in English.
Earlier in the season, Ko had expressed her admiration for Brooks Koepka. Asked for why, she simply replied: “Everything.” Then she added that “I like his poker face.” She was becoming the player to beat in the women’s major in the same way Koepka has in the men’s. Usually impassive to a fault, Ko dissolved into tears the moment she won the ANA, thinking of her late grandfather. This time at Evian, Ko enjoyed the scene at the 18th to the full and the tears only came once the prize-giving ceremony reached the stage when the. flag of the Republic of Korea was raised and her national anthem played. “I’m really proud of Korea,” she said. “I tried never to cry again, because ANA I cried so much. So this week I try just smiling, but I heard my national anthem and then I couldn’t hold it.”
A delayed reaction to the emotion of the occasion may be understandable given the circumstances of her victory. Having started the final round four strokes behind Hyo Joo Kim, Ko trailed her friend and compatriot all day until the 14th hole. At the par-three, Kim, who was disturbed over her tee shot and later regretted not backing off and starting again, found a greenside bunker. This was when the trouble really started. The ball was plugged under the lip in the wet sand after all the rain that had fallen in the previous 24 hours. A slight figure, whose accuracy is usually her strength, did not appear to have the power required to force the ball out of the trap. It caught the bank in front of her and then rolled back into her own footprints. Her second attempt at escaping only just found the fringe of the green, and from there, understandably in a state of shock, she three-putted for a six.
From being one ahead, Kim was now two behind Ko, who had safely parred the hole. Kim recovered herself to finish with a three pars and a birdie at the last to share second place with Shanshan Feng and Jennifer Kupcho. Ko, suddenly finding herself ahead, also finished strongly, holing from 25 feet for a birdie at the 17th which resulted in a two-stroke victory. She was able to enjoy the walk down the 18th once Brooker, who had previously told her to avoid looking at the leaderboards, told Ko, as she reported: “If you three-putt, still you win. But you’re a professional, so you have to make a two-putt.” She did. Not since Inbee Park in 2015 had a player won multiple majors in the same season. “It’s a really great honor to get a second major win of the year,” Ko said. “Really, I can’t believe about how can I do it?”
She did it by sticking to her usual game, as articulated by Brooker. “The things that impress most are her consistency and her ball-striking, as she showed today,” he said. “She didn’t miss a shot in 18 holes. Her management of distance control, because she just does not curve the ball, is phenomenal.” A closing 67, for a 15-under-par total of 269, contained five birdies and only one bogey at the 12th, where her one less-than-perfect approach ran off the green. She chipped up but the putt lipped out. She had birdied the sixth and seventh holes on the front nine and then hit her second at the 10th to a foot. A 20-footer at the 13th got her back within one of Kim, which meant she was in pole position when misfortune visited her friend. Kim closed with a 73, having been level par for the day before the triple.
The all-Korean final threeball also contained Sung Hyun Park, who started as Kim’s closest challenger, just one behind. But Park bogeyed the first two holes and three of the first five. A double bogey at the 11th ended her hopes and she finished with a 75 to tie for sixth place with Moriya Jutanugarn, one behind Ariya Jutanugarn, who was fifth after a 68. Park dislikes wearing a rain jacket, but that was not an option on Sunday as the rain lasted all day, sometimes heavy, sometimes lighter. Ironically, the championship, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary since it started as the Evian Masters before being designated a major in 2013, had been moved from September back to its old July date expressly to avoid the weather that had plagued the event in its late summer date.
So the first half of the week was played in a heatwave that saw record temperatures across Europe. Paula Creamer seemed to enjoy the heat as she led the first round with a seven-under-par 64 in which she did not drop a stroke. She finished with a birdie-four at the last, which was converted to a par-five from a par-four. The 13th hole, which was a par-five, was reduced to a four, albeit a long one, but Creamer managed to birdie that anyway. Ko, after finishing with four birdies in a row, was a stroke behind on 65, along with Mi Hyang Lee, Inbee Park and Brittany Altomare. Kupcho and Mel Reid scored 66s. Lee had come to the 18th tied for the lead but a bogey dropped her into the group sharing second place.
It was the first time since she won the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open that Creamer had led at a major. “It’s been several years since I’ve felt good in my shoes,” said the 32-year-old. Creamer had won the Evian Masters in 2005 and the tournament’s branding also fitted with the golfer known as the Pink Panther. “I love all the pink,” she said. “The first time I was here it was like it was meant for me. Then, there is the scenery. If you ever have a bad moment, you can look out at the lake.” Creamer may have taken her own advice the following afternoon, for she was philosophical in admitting she did not deal with the conditions too well. A threat of lightning interrupted play for 65 minutes, and after the resumption the wind was gusting up to 30 mph. Creamer went seven over par for five holes and ended with a 76. Instead, Lee went into the lead with a 67 to be 10 under par. The 23-year-old with two LPGA wins recovered from a double bogey at the ninth and finished the round in the worst of the weather with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes before eagling the last. “I missed a lot of greens and had a bit of luck, but just tried to take it shot by shot,” Lee said.
Lee led by a stroke over Kim as well as Sung Hyun Park and Inbee Park. Kim, after an opening 69, scored a 64, along with Caroline Hedwall, the best score of the day. Kim did not drop a stroke and went five under par for the last seven holes, including an eagle at the last. Inbee Park, who won the last non-major Evian Masters in 2012, had a 68, while Sung Hyun Park added a 66 to a first round of 67. Ko had a 71, so was in sixth place, alongsid Kupcho and a stroke behind Feng. Among those missing the cut was U.S. Open champion Jeongeun Lee 6, by a single stroke, and Lexi Thompson, who scored 77-72. The first round had been the problem, with the American hitting only five of the fiery, sloping fairways and taking 37 putts. A social media post, subsequently deleted, suggested she was happy not to be playing on the weekend.
It was the 2014 Evian champion Kim who went low on Saturday, with a 65 that put her one ahead. After going out in 33, she had birdies at the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th holes, but the best bit about her round was finishing just as the heavy rain began. An early morning start had ensured play finished prior to the forecasted thunderstorms. “I am very happy that I was able to finish the round before the rain started to pour really bad,” Kim said. “I definitely have good memories of this tournament because of my win. I’m going to keep that going into tomorrow and forget everything else.” Sung Hyun Park had her second 66 in a row to lie second, with Ko also producing a 66 to take third place alongside Inbee Park. Ariya Jutanugarn shot up the leaderboard with a 64, while Lee had stalled with a 71 that left her in fifth place with Feng.
The Chinese golfer dropped only one stroke on Sunday in a 68 but never got closer than within a shot of the lead. Kupcho finished with a bogey-free 66, including birdies at three of the last four holes, for her best finish in eight events since turning professional. The inaugural winner of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur hit the green in two at the last, one of the few to do so on the final day, and two-putted for a four, the most nervous moment of her career. “I’d definitely say over that putt on 18 I was freaking out. I had to take a couple of deep breaths as I was lining it up,” she said. A breakout performance by a potential star secured her LPGA card for 2020. Ko’s victory, her third of the season, returned her to the top spot on the Rolex Rankings, a position her new idol Ochoa had once made her own.