Despite playing some of the best golf since she broke onto the LPGA Tour nearly 10 years ago, Lydia Ko still had to confront her most vocal critic throughout the year … her mom, Tina.
“My mom does joke to me at times,” Ko said before playing Sunday’s final round at the CME Group Tour Championship. “She’s, like, ‘You played so much better when you were, like, 15.’
“I was, like, ‘Thanks, Mom. What am I meant to do with that information?’ ”
Perhaps take it and prove her wrong?
Because that’s just what the 25-year-old from New Zealand did at the final event of the LPGA Tour season.
Ko capped a comeback year by winning the Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club and the $2 million first-place prize money. The win was her third this season and her 14th top 10.
And just in case mom is not paying attention, Ko may have to build a new case in her Orlando home just for the hardware she took home Sunday.
Aside from the glass globe for Sunday’s win, she adds the Rolex Player of the Year trophy for the second time in her career and the Vare Trophy – a silver bowl that goes to the golfer with the low season-long scoring average – for the second consecutive year.
Now will mom give her some credit?
“Oh, hell no,” she said. “I’m like 5 in my mom’s eyes.”
But Ko would not have it any other way. She credits her mom for keeping her “super grounded,” like when she asked about one shot Sunday, her worst of the day.
“Remember that thing you hit on 14 and it went in the water?” her mom said. “I was like, yes, thanks mom.”
The significance of Ko’s reward for shooting 2-under 70 and finishing the weekend 17-under par, two shots better then Ireland’s Leona Maguire, cannot be understated.
Big check for Ko, bigger checks to come on LPGA Tour
Ko will cash the biggest check in the history of the game, a prelude of what is to come on the LPGA Tour.
Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan announced the tour will distribute more than $100 million in prize money for the first time next season.
And although Ko’s final earnings for the season, $4,364,403, falls $591 short of the record set by Lorena Ochoa in 2007, she moves into the fifth spot in career earnings with just less than $16.7 million.
Two more years close to what she’s done in 2022 and Ko will pass Annika Sorenstam as the career money leader in women’s golf.
Ko’s season was highlighted by bookend wins at the Gainbridge LPGA in Boca Raton and the Tour Championship. Her other victory was at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea, which was as special as any win in her career coming in her native country.
“A bucket list thing,” she said.
This is her first multiple win season since 2016, the year after she became the youngest golfer, man or woman, to reach No. 1 in the world. She was 17.
“This year has been special,” she said.
Ko and Maguire started the cool, damp, windy day at 15-under, five shots ahead of the field. Maguire was one shot clear of Ko twice in the first seven holes before a birdie on the par-3 No. 8 gave Ko a lead she never relinquished
Birdies on 16 and 17 sealed the win.
“I wanted to not set too high expectations,” Ko said. “I want to end the season on a high, but know that whatever happens, and even though there’s a lot of things on the line, just know that it’s been a great season.”
Even mom can agree.
“She might be one of my toughest critics but I know that she wants me to just keep growing,” Ko said. “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.”