RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif .– Jin Young Ko was not a fan of Mission Hills Golf Club. That was, at least, until she won here in 2019.
The current world No.1 won her first major ANA Inspiration title two years ago. But before its decisive victory, it had finished no better than the T-64 in three previous starts on the Dinah Shore tournament course. These poor performances created negative feelings on the course and snowballed again, which led to more bad memories every time she played there.
So what has changed?
Prior to joining the tour in 2018, Ko made the trip annually from his home in Korea to California. Flight time is over 13 hours from Seoul to Los Angeles. For Ko, the jet lag was debilitating. She didn’t have the energy to make her way around Mission Hills, which at the time had rougher and narrower fairways.
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“[You] feel like an octopus when you come from Korea, ”Ko told GolfChannel.com. “I had no energy before 2017 or the 18th, when I played this course. My body was weaker. It was really difficult.
Prior to ANA Inspiration 2019, Ko spent March in the United States to compete in the LPGA Tour. It made her stronger, rested and well adjusted to jet lag when she did so in the first major of the year. From there, the results followed which led to some positive memories and a completely different feeling on the golf course.
“I have really fond memories, so I love this class,” Ko said of his change of mind. “[On] 18, the last hole, I birdie and won [by three shots] So it was a good memory in my life.
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The 18th hole will play very differently from the last time she played the last course. She skipped the 2020 ANA Inspiration which was postponed until September due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week the hole will play as originally designed with a green island, with no grandstands or hospitality framing the bottom of the hole. LPGA rules officials said on Wednesday they intended to hitchhike up the tee every day to get players to try eagle and go for the par 5 in two. Ko stopped en route to his victory in 2019. When asked what the hole looked like now, Ko simply replied ‘dangerous’.
“If the tees are forward, I might have a chance to [go for] green with a 5 wood or a hybrid, ”she says. “But it’s going to be firmer. Green on Saturday or Sunday I think there is a chance [to go for it]. Otherwise, I could lie down.
On Tuesday, Ko played the back nine and said the course was more difficult than when she won 10 under par. She expects birdies to be scarce this time around. But, if Ko hadn’t won in 2019, is it possible that she’d grown to love the test that is Mission Hills?
“Well, if I finished in the top two or three, maybe. Bad luck, ”Ko laughs.