Kevin Fitzgerald
Jin Young Ko tees off—in front of the trophy she’d go on to win—on the first hole of the final round of the 2019 ANA Inspiration tournament. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

Last year’s ANA Inspiration featured a playoff that forced eventual winner Pernilla Lindberg and Inbee Park to play into Monday.

This year’s edition featured no such edge-of-your-seat drama—but it did feature another surprising winner.

The LPGA’s top players battled brief displays of Coachella Valley winds and heat, along with their own inner demons, before 23-year-old South Korean Jin Young Ko took the victorious jump into Poppy’s Pond after rolling in a birdie putt on the 18th green to cap her 10-under-par score.

Asked what went through her mind as she addressed that putt on 18, Ko replied, “My grandfather. My grandfather died one year ago … I couldn’t believe my grandfather (was) dead, so I miss him.”

Ko’s total bested fellow South Korean Mi Hyang Lee by three shots. Lee was the only player to nip at the winner’s heels during Sunday’s final round, pulling within one shot as late as the 15th hole. Ko responded immediately with a birdie on the 16.

When asked how she’s gotten such a fast start thus far in 2019—only her second season on the LPGA tour—and how she feels about playing in Coachella Valley, Ko told the media: “I tried (to be the) happiest golfer on the course, but if ball goes right or left, it doesn’t make me happy. But I’m still try(ing to be) happy. Also, I really try not to think about the future. … I practice in Palm Springs in January, so I know I like desert course, because all the time, the ball goes far.”

In the final round, fan favorite and 2014 champion Lexi Thompson stayed close enough to the leaders to have a chance if she could mount one of her familiar charges—and on the back nine, she started whittling into Ko’s lead. Thompson, playing a dozen groups ahead of Ko, stood on the par 5, 18th green with a long eagle putt to pull within a shot of the lead. However, Thompson’s eagle attempt came up well short—and then she missed the makeable birdie putt.

“I just got up to the putt and said, ‘You know, Ii it misses it misses, but just get up there,’” Thompson told the media after her round.

An interesting side note: As final-round play began on Sunday, four of the six lowest scores belonged to women from South Korea. This small nation is leading the way in LPGA play, and 2019 could be the year of South Korean women’s golfing domination.

Scroll down to see some photos from the ANA Inspiration tournament.

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, after he and his wife Linda moved from Los Angeles to Palm...