South Korea’s top 2 LPGA Tour players on longest break ever

Jin Young Ko figures to be plenty rested whenever the LPGA Tour resumes.

Ko left the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, on Nov. 24 as the No. 1 player in women’s golf, capping off her four-win, two-major season as the LPGA player of the year and winner of the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

The plan was to return for the Asia swing in mid-February and work her way into the season.

She’s still waiting.

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The next event on the LPGA schedule is May 14 at the Pelican Women’s Championship in Florida, and that’s looking more doubtful with each rapid development of COVID-19.

“In the 17 years that I’ve been playing golf, this is the first time I’ve had such a long break from competition,” Ko said in an email interview.

She’s not alone. Sung Hyun Park withdrew from the final round in Naples with a sore left shoulder. She was No. 2 in the world at the time. Park, like Ko, skipped the two events in Florida and two in Australia, targeting her return in Asia.

Ko already was in the United States at the start of the year, while Park decided to come over when the new coronavirus led to the four-tournament Asia swing being postponed.

Now they’re back home.

Ko returned to South Korea when the Founders Cup, Kia Classic and ANA Inspiration were postponed. She was the defending champion at Founders and ANA, the first major.

She’s still working just as hard.

“I go to bed and wake up early,” Ko said. “At least four times a week, I have a two-hour workout after breakfast. I practice golf every day and take my dog for walks when I return home. I also take naps occasionally.”

Park couldn’t think of another time she was away from competition so long.

“I can’t wait for the day that we get back on the golf course,” Park said. “I’ve accepted the fact that we won’t be playing for a while. Health and safety is the top priority in this difficult situation for everyone. The only thing that I can do for now is wait patiently and practice and work hard to be ready for when the season is back on.”

Park has slipped to No. 3 behind Nelly Korda, who has two top-10 finishes in three events in January and early February.

The biggest competition for South Koreans is earning one of the four spots in the Olympics, which is no longer urgent with the games being postponed until the summer of 2021.

In the meantime, the wait — and the work — continues, along with perks the 24-year-old Ko never imagined.

“Although the ‘offseason’ has been long, I am also enjoying the downtime,” Ko said. “I can’t remember the last time I was in Korea in the spring with my family. It’s been wonderful to see the cherry blossoms bloom.”

LANGE RECOVERS

Victor Lange of South Africa was the first professional golfer to test positive for COVID-19, which might not have happened if not for his girlfriend getting hurt.

In a first-person piece for pgatour.com, Lange says he returned home after a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event in Mexico, went hiking for two nights in the mountains and then to the beach as part of a holiday. When his girlfriend hurt her toe, they went to the emergency room.

They were screened for the new coronavirus, and when Lange said he had been out of the country in the last 21 days, hospital policy required a coronavirus test.

“They were checking me out before helping her, the one who was in pain,” Lange said. “Added to my frustration is I had zero symptoms, I was feeling healthy and was trying to get them to take care of Gabriella.”

The test came back positive. Lange assumes he picked it up during his air travel, though he’s not sure.

He called everyone with whom he had been in contact, including his roommate during the tournament. He was re-tested about a week later and the results were negative for Lange and his girlfriend. Meanwhile, he said, South Africa entered a 21-day lockdown, giving him an additional three weeks of self-imposed quarantine.

“Sitting on the couch sure doesn’t feel quite right to me, though,” Lange said. “December and January are when you work so hard for the upcoming season, and then this is the time to really start playing. Instead, we stopped playing after one week.”

FINANCIAL AID

The PGA Tour is providing financial assistance to players if they need it — or want it — including one model in which they receive an advance payment of their projected FedEx Cup bonus.

Golf Channel obtained a memo sent to players last week.

Under the advance payment model, players can receive 50% of their projected bonus capped out at $100,000.

If a player currently is No. 70 in the FedEx Cup, the year-end bonus for that position is $140,000 in deferred compensation. The player would be able to take $70,000, which would count against whatever his bonus is at the end of the year. If he finishes higher, the $70,000 would be deducted. If he finishes lower and his bonus isn’t enough to cover the advance, future prize money will be reduced by 50% until the advance is repaid.

That’s for players among the top 150 in the FedEx Cup.

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY

In the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship, Karrie Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the 18th hole, and Lorena Ochoa forced a playoff with a 5-wood to 6 feet for eagle. Webb won with a 7-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. Sixteen-year-old Michelle Wie had a 25-foot chip for eagle on the final hole to win. It went 10 feet by and she missed the birdie putt — and the playoff.

DIVOTS

Hank Haney’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour is still alive. A Florida judge denied the tour’s motion to dismiss. Haney lost his radio show on SiriusXM last year after he jokingly predicted “a Korean” would win the U.S. Women’s Open and said he couldn’t name six players on the LPGA Tour. … The PGA Tour is providing free access to its premium, on-demand content on “PGA Tour Live” until the season resumes. That includes a documentary on Tiger Woods’ comeback in 2018 and final-round replays from past tournaments. Current subscribers will have their billing paused.

STAT OF THE WEEK

This week is the 10-year anniversary of Anthony Kim winning the Houston Open, his last PGA Tour victory.

FINAL WORD

“For a guy in his 40s with the clock ticking more than other guys, I’m excited to get back on the course.” — 40-year-old Graeme McDowell.

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