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How skipping a major helped Jin Young Ko return to the top of the LPGA

Jin Young Ko hits an iron shot at the Pelican Women’s Championship last weekend. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The No. 1 position in the Rolex Rankings has been the forbidden fruit of the LPGA Tour. Once players get a taste of the lead, they often have a hard time holding onto it. Jin Young Ko is well aware of the challenge.

Shanshan Feng relinquished her spot at the top in April of 2018 and now plans to retire at the end of the year. Ariya Jutanugarn, Inbee Park and Sung Hyun Park traded the No. 1 ranking for the rest of 2018 and into early 2019. Ko moved into the lead briefly in the summer of 2019, swapping spots with Park, until she grabbed hold of it for good at the 2019 Evian Championship. Ko’s 100-week reign finally came to an end in June, when Nelly Korda won the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and secured No. 1.

Ko responded with a victory at the Volunteers of America Classic over the Fourth of July, but after posting three finishes outside of the top 40, the gap between Korda and Ko at No. 2 had widened. Ko last finished outside the top 40 three times in a season in 2018.

So, after the Tokyo Olympics in August, Ko was looking to make some changes. To help her find her consistently dominant form, her team called Si Woo Lee, Ko’s swing coach from 2017 to April 2020. Ko flew from Tokyo to her home in South Korea to meet with Lee and begin the process that’s lifted her to a late-season surge of three wins in her last six starts.

The first step in Ko and Lee’s reunion was to get back to the roots of Ko’s swing.

“[We] reviewed all the swing videos since 2017,” Lee said via text. “Checked all the details that we missed over the last months we were not together.”

Lee laughed as he tried to recall the number of videos she’s sent him over the years. They discussed the differences they noticed in her swing evolution and trained together three to four days a week over six to seven weeks to help Ko, then an eight-time LPGA winner, get back on track.

“I had a lot of problems with my swing, so I can’t pick just one thing,” Ko said at the Cognizant Founder’s Cup. “Well, just basic one. Just keep my spine or just don’t move from right to left.”

Ko’s return to basics was a key tenet of Lee’s instruction.

“It is simple,” Lee said. “I always focus on the basic. I just add some tips that Jin Young could have more balance by using large muscles. It would help her to have simple and stiff golf swings. The tips for a world No. 1 player’s swing are using large muscles from basic skills.”

The AIG Women’s Open, the final major of 2021, began less than two weeks after the Olympics. Instead of having Ko rush back to competition, they decided to continue drilling her form, especially given the month-long gap between the AIG Women’s Open and the rest of the year’s tournaments.

“When we decided to not to attend the AIG Women’s Open,” Lee said, “Jin Young was not perfectly ready for the tournament.”

The British event has a foothold in Ko’s memory. In 2015, a 20-year-old Ko held a three-shot lead at the Ricoh British Women’s Open (as it was named then) before Hall of Famer Inbee Park chased her down. Ko finished as runner-up, but her career only ascended from there.

“It was a really difficult decision not to play the British Open, because I really love to play in the British,” Ko said at the Cambia Portland Classic in September.

Instead, Ko and Lee continued to work on her swing mechanics and toward Lee’s goal for the 26-year-old.

“My new target for her is raising her performance toward winning competitive ranks,” Lee said. “Final goal was No. 1 again — sooner than my expectations though.”

It took Ko five starts to return to the No. 1 spot, reaching the top with a playoff victory at the BMW Ladies Championship last month and holding onto it for two weeks. The victory marked the 200th by a South Korean in LPGA history and the 11th in Ko’s career.

The 2019 Player of the Year’s game has soared since her return to the course in September. In addition to her three wins on tour, she posted 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s, matching the tour record set by Annika Sorenstam in 2005 and So Yeon Ryu in 2016 and 2017. Ko credits a subtle adjustment for the meteoric rise.

“I can say my backswings are better than before changing my coach,” Ko said ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship last weekend. “Ball contact or, like, everything … [is] better than before the Olympics.”

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Ko's stats on tour before and after her training sessions with Lee.

This isn’t the first time Ko has made LPGA history after partnering with Lee. After a disappointing five-over opening round at the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Ko called Lee so they could work together during her 24th birthday celebration in Chicago. Their adjustment was a small weight shift. The result was 114 holes of bogey-free golf from the AIG Women’s Open through the first round of the Cambia Portland Classic, an all-time mark on the LPGA and PGA Tour.

“He really knows my swing or putting,” Ko said. “So if I say anything, he knows my feeling or my mindset. So, yeah, that’s really comfy. He knows everything from me.”

Since Ko returned to the tour, she and Korda have played in the same field only at the Cognizant Founder’s Cup and the Pelican Women’s Championship. Korda, however, has been able to appreciate Ko’s play from afar.

“It’s honestly been really super exciting to watch,” the American golfer said. “You’re never going to be world No. 1 forever. You’re going to jump people, they’re going to jump you. It’s been super cool to see how dominant and well she’s been playing. Because if you’re out here and you’re playing week in and week out, you appreciate how good she is playing. So she’s been on a run, and it’s going to take some really, really good golf to catch her.”

Korda gained some separation with her victory at the Pelican Women’s Championship, but Ko remains in striking distance. Ko’s T-6 finish in Belleair, Fla. was her sixth consecutive top-10 result since September.

She credits much of that success to her swing coach. The camaraderie Lee and Ko have built over the years has motivated Lee to push her to even greater heights.

Ahead of the final two events of the season, Ko spent additional time with Lee. Even then, Ko noticed a back-to-basics adjustment she needed to make before she goes head-to-head with Korda in pursuit of defending her title at the CME Group Tour Championship this weekend.

“She is always Jin Young,” Lee said. “I first met her in 2017, early summer. She has never settled down or been satisfied with her present. She has a passion for winning. It makes me always dream of winning and teach her with passion as a coach.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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