Life is so good for Lydia Ko right now that she sometimes wonders if it’s real. The Kiwi, fresh off a honeymoon that included eight rounds of golf and an ace, won her first start of the season at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International.
Ko won $750,000 for her efforts, which follows a record-setting $2 million first-place prize at last year’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. While she didn’t earn a coveted LPGA Hall of Fame point for this week’s victory – a Ladies European Tour-Sanctioned event – Ko marches into next week’s event in Thailand in a terrific frame of mind. She needs two more points to qualify for the LPGA Hall. A regular-season LPGA tournament is worth one point and majors are worth two.
“I think I’ve just been very grateful,” she said. “A lot of great things happening, especially in the last few months again and again.”
𝑻𝑯𝑬 𝑳𝒀𝑫𝑰𝑨 𝑲𝑶 𝑺𝑯𝑶𝑾
— Ladies European Tour (@LETgolf) February 19, 2023
World No. 1 Ko, who has now won in three of her last four starts worldwide, took the lead from American Lilia Vu on the penultimate hole with birdie, going to the 18th tee tied with the former UCLA star. With India’s Aditi Ashok in the clubhouse at 20 under, Ko and Vu stood at 21 under with only a par 5 left to play.
After Ko rather shockingly duck-hooked her tee shot off the 18th, Vu hit her second shot into the water as she tried to reach the green in two. While Ko managed to recover and record a par, Vu’s closing bogey dropped her into a share of third. That left Ashok alone in second place, worth $450,000. Ashok won the season-opening Magical Kenya Ladies Open and took home 45,000 euros. The Indian joked that she had no designs on any upcoming spending sprees.
“I mean, I watch a lot of movies and stuff,” she said, “so maybe trying to get more streaming services because I only get one for right now. Maybe I’ll get all of them. That’s it.”
The Saudis Ladies International featured 15 of the top 30 players in the Rolex Rankings. The $5 million prize fund, which now matches that of the men’s event in Saudi, is the largest purse in women’s golf outside of the majors and the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship ($7 million). The LET’s Saudi-backed events, which total six in 2023, remains controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.
Ko is now 2-for-2 at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, having previously won this event in 2021. She has also now won twice with veteran caddie David Jones on the bag. Ko snapped a three-year victory drought on the LPGA with Jones in Hawaii two years ago. They had three additional starts together as well before starting on a full-time capacity this season. There’s already a great deal of trust as Ko said she relied on Jones to help her read the greens Sunday after she struggled the first three holes.
“So he is a new face, but like someone similar that I know that we have good chemistry,” said Ko. “Dave, because he used to play, I feel like he has the mindset of a player and he’s very positive. Even when I don’t hit a good shot, he’s out there thinking, ‘What can we do to recover from here’.
“So I try and be more positive when I’m on the golf course, and he definitely helps me with that. I think his knowledge with that playing background I think helps.”
Lexi Thompson opened her 2023 season with a share of third in Saudi Arabia with Manon De Roey and Vu. Thompson shot 63-66 over the weekend. She will not play the next two LPGA events in Thailand and Singapore.
“This is definitely a good confidence booster to start off the season that way,” she said. “I’ll continue to build off it. I’ll go home for a few weeks now and practice even harder knowing, kind of putting my work to the test this week and playing well. But there are a few things that I need to improve on and really build off.”