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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.”

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.

LPGA Star Lexi Thompson Announces Retirement From Professional Golf

pro golfer lexi thompson on the course
Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Pro golfer Lexi Thompson is retiring, she announced on Tuesday. This will be her final season on the LPGA Tour.

The 29-year-old has been playing professionally for the past 15 years. The two-time Olympian and six-time Solheim Cup competitor said that she’d been contemplating retirement for a few months, coming to the conclusion that it was time to step away.

"While it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time," Thompson posted to Instagram. "At the end of 2024, I will be stepping away from a full professional golf schedule. I'm excited to enjoy the remainder of the year as there are still goals I want to accomplish.

"I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Time with family, friends, and my trusted companion Leo. I will always look for ways to contribute to the sport and inspire the next generation of golfers. And of course, I look forward to a little time for myself."

Thompson is set to play at the US Women’s Open in Pennsylvania starting Thursday. Speaking from Lancaster Country Club, Thompson told reporters that she’s currently taking it "day by day."

"I'm not going to say yes or no on how many events I'll play or if I do," she said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and see how I feel, especially going into next year, but I'm very content with this being my last full-time schedule year."

Thompson also cited mental health as a factor in her decision to retire.

"I think we all have our struggles, especially out here," she said. "Unfortunately in golf you lose more than you win, so it's an ongoing battle to continue to put yourself out there in front of the cameras and continuing to work hard and maybe not seeing the results you want and getting criticized for it. So it's hard.

"I will say, yes, I've struggled with it — I don't think there's somebody out here that hasn't. It's just a matter of how well you hide it, which is very sad."

This will be Thompson’s 18th-straight year participating in US Women’s Open. At just 12 years old, she was the youngest golfer to qualify for the 2007 tournament, later making her first cut at the major in 2009 at 14.

Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. 

The retirement came as a surprise to many, including decorated LPGA standout Nelly Korda

"She's had such an amazing career," Korda said Tuesday. "I've gotten to be on the team with her a couple times representing our country. I think she does an amazing job for the Tour. She spends so much time going to each pro-am party. She really dedicated her time to growing the game.

"It's sad to see that she's obviously leaving and not going to be out here with us anymore, but she's had an amazing career, and I wish her the best in this new chapter of her life."

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

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