BELLEAIR, Florida – Jin Young Ko is back on tour and looking for the nearest Korean market. The World No. 1 learned to cook during her prolonged break from the LPGA and is in need of several spices to whip up evening meals. The inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship marks Ko’s first start on the LPGA in 2020. She played in six events on the Korean LPGA this season, carding four top 10s.
“I had been (to) cooking class and meditation, work out, practice a lot,” said Ko of her time off. “I have to cook more Korean food in U.S., so I went to the cooking class, and then I got a lot of things like menus, Korean menus, so I (cooked) this morning, last night too.”
Ko isn’t the only Korean player making a comeback this week. Jeongeun Lee6 last competed on the LPGA in Australia last February and makes her return to in Florida, gearing up for a title defense at next month’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Lee6 clearly spent time on her English lessons during the downtime, given that she answered many of the questions in her pre-tournament press conference without the aid of an interpreter.
In addition to her English tutor, Lee6 also credited her recent improvement to the Netflix show “Emily in Paris.”
Ko answers most questions in English these days too, surely aided by the constant presence of her English caddie in recent months. David Brooker flew over to South Korea in late September after the Portland event and spent two weeks in quarantine before going to work for Ko on the KLPGA.
During the two-week break in between events, Brooker stayed with Ko’s family.
“He’s like family right now because he stayed (at) my home for two weeks,” said Ko. “My mom always cooked for him. Every meal, three meals a day. So he said, he told me he like gained weight.”
Ko is actually looking for a place to live in the U.S., noting that she’ll rely in part on Brooker to help her navigate that move.
The ankle injury Ko suffered late in 2019 only fully healed in June. She has since hired a new swing coach and noted that she wants to become more consistent with her short irons. Brooker said she’d like to get more height with her long irons, too.
Of course, practice facilities are tough to come by in South Korea, where the vast majority of courses don’t have a driving range. Ko spent most her time hitting balls off of mats at a multi-tiered range. She’d then have to drive an hour outside of Seoul to play 18 holes.
“It’s very rare to find a course that has everything you need,” said Brooker.
Lee6 admitted to feeling nervous coming back to the LPGA because she “wasn’t really satisfied” with her game in South Korea. She played in 13 events on the KLPGA, posting a trio of top-3 finishes.
Watching the (LPGA) in Korea, I really wanted to play and come but I didn’t,” she said. “I was a little scared to come.”
The two players have three events left to try and qualify for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.
Last year, Ko and Lee6 together won three of the five majors on the LPGA schedule. In 2020, they’ve each missed all three majors that were contested. Ko was most notably absent from September’s ANA Inspiration, which she won last year. The Evian Championship, Ko second major title, was canceled in 2020.
“I missed this tour,” Ko said. “Also, I miss (being) competitive. I want to win again.”