NAPLES, Fla. – Without question, it’s a rivalry. Lydia Ko and Inbee Park are just choosing not to make it a heated one.
All they’re playing for this week at the LPGA Tour Championship is the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, the season’s money crown, the yearlong scoring title and the tour’s player of the year award. Oh, a potential payday of $1.5 million might be awaiting them as well. And Park could wrap up her eventual spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
It’s not a head-to-head matchup that starts Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club – there are 69 other players in the field – but it sure seems like one, given that the tour’s biggest award races are left for Ko and Park to decide.
“We have everything on the line,” Park said. “What Lydia is doing can affect so many things and what I can achieve. It’s hard, but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t make Lydia play bad or good. I can’t do anything like that. I’ve got to do good and then just see what happens.”
They’ll be paired together Thursday, along with world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. Like Ko and Park, Lewis also controls her destiny when it comes to the $1 million “Race to CME Globe” bonus; with a win, any of them clinch that cash. There’s another six women in the field who also have a chance to win the million, including world No. 4 Lexi Thompson.
If she’s wrapped up in the Ko vs. Park storyline, it isn’t showing.
“I can’t say I really think about that,” Thompson said. “But with golf … it’s kind of selfish, but you kind of have to just worry about yourself and not worry about all the other players.”
Ko won the tournament last year as a 17-year-old, plus went home with the $1 million bonus after getting doused in a greenside celebration with champagne that she can’t legally drink. The money is displayed in a glass cube, flanked by security guards. And the closest Ko came to disappointment last year was finding out that she couldn’t actually get to keep the cash in that box and would be paid through more conventional means.
Ko skipped the last two weeks in Japan and Mexico, saying she needed a little rest for the finale. Apparently, the grind of an LPGA season is even tiring to talented teenagers.
“I mean, it’s great to come back, and the best part was I pulled out my yardage book from last year and I had to kind of rip the pages apart because of the champagne, the pages stuck together,” Ko said. “So that’s not a bad thing to happen.”
There is a clear respect shared by Ko and Park, both seeing the similarities in their games.
Anyone could see the similarities in their numbers.
Both have five wins this year. Ko enters this week with a slight edge in the world ranking, one that could easily be overtaken by Park for No. 1. Park (69.433) leads Ko (69.449) by a sliver in the race for the Vare Trophy, given to the player with the year’s best scoring average on tour. Ko leads the money list in another race that still isn’t decided, and she also carries a three-point edge in the player-of-the-year race into the finale.
This week decides all those races.
“I really think if I win one, I win it all,” Park said. “If Lydia wins one, she’s going to win it all. I don’t think we get to choose one.”
So there will be tournaments within the tournament. The tour championship and its $500,000 first prize is hardly irrelevant. The way the points for the bonus are structured, it was assured that the $1 million would be decided this weekend. To add all the other award elements into the week, it’s easy to see why the weekend is shaping up for drama.
Ko said she’s going to play the same way she always does, with no plans to worry about anything else.
“I don’t even know how those points systems work to be honest,” Ko said. “I heard last week on TV that the winner gets 30 points. I was like, ‘Oh, sweet.’ I didn’t know how it all works. Too many numbers, and I’m not very good at mathematics, either. Adding and minus – as long as we’re going up, that’s a good thing.”