Miho Koga was finally able to break through.
One of the brightest stars on the Japan LPGA Tour for years, Koga won the season-ending Tour Championship to win the first money title of her career.
As scores rose and the players above her on the leaderboard dropped on Sunday at Miyazaki Country Club, Koga fired a cool 68 to overtake , leader Song Bo Bae, Yuri Fudo to defend her title and claim winner’s check.
“I’ve never had an experience like this before, so I’m so surprised. I can only say I was so lucky,” Koga said after the tournament.
The victory helped her overtake Lee Ji Hee on the money list by ¥1,201,351, the narrowest gap since Fumiko Muraguchi won the title by ¥530,000 in 1999. Koga is also the fourth woman to win the money title by coming from behind for a win in the final tournament.
Koga is a part of a group of young stars in Japanese golf that includes Sakura Yokomine, LPGA rookie Momoko Ueda, LPGA player Ai Miyazato, and 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa on the men’s side, among others.
With four tournament victories this season, Koga may have taken her place at the head of that class and the money title is something that among the five mentioned only she and Ueda have won.
Koga has been very successful on the Tour since winning her first tournament at the Yonex Ladies in 2003. The Kumamoto native has won 11 tournaments and earned more than ¥445 million in her pro career.
Koga, however, had never been able to string together enough wins to earn enough to bring home the money title until now. It was a validating victory for one of the JLPGA’s glamour girls.
The 26-year-old was a baseball player in her grade school years, reportedly once hitting a home run off fellow Kumamoto native and then-future Fukuoka Softbank star Takahiro Mahara, before switching to golf at 10.
She made her pro debut in 2001 and won her first title in 2003.
She’s also been visible off the course through the years, often making the rounds on both sports and variety shows.
Koga won her first tournament of 2008 in May then didn’t notch another win until the CAT Ladies on Aug. 24.
She followed that with an inspired showing at the Itoen Ladies, cruising to her third win of the season on Nov. 16.
In Miyazaki she entered the final round three shots back, but had four birdies on the final day including a pair of birdies on the 17th and 18th holes.
In the clubhouse she watched leader Jeon Mi Jeong bogey the 17th before a double bogey on the last hole ended Jeon’s title hopes.
Six-time money winner Yuri Fudo then blew her chances by three-putting for bogey on the 18th, giving Koga win.
“This feels like a miracle,” Koga told Kyodo News. “I feel like there was some other force at work out there. I am so lucky.”
Considering her father, Kojiro, took a 46-day trip in Shikoku, to perform “Hachiju hakkasho junrei” (a pilgrimage to visit 88 places) to pray that she won the money title, maybe there were other forces at work.
Whatever the reason, Koga has capped what has been a solid career with a breakthrough year and a money title.
Her teacher and mentor, Sumiko Kiyomoto, was in attendance Sunday and was relishing in her charge’s victory afterward.
“It was just a windfall,” Kiyomoto said. “I guess she had some luck.”
Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this story
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