Ko's dominance beginning of something special

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2015, 11:13 pm

NAPLES, Fla. - Lydia Ko had just been handed a $1 million bonus for the second consecutive year, and the first thing she thought about buying with those newfound additional riches was a new phone.

She's had a bunch. She keeps dropping them.

''My mom doesn't like it,'' Ko said. ''Phones are expensive.''

It's moments like those that serve as the reminder that the New Zealander is only 18. The way she plays, no one believes she's just a teenager. The LPGA's rookie of the year from 2014 was the LPGA's player of the year in 2015, and in golf - or any major U.S. pro sport - there's never been anyone younger to end a season as the unquestioned best in his or her game.

Ko has 10 wins already, and there's about 40 tournaments left to play before her teenage years are over.

''I don't think she's the age she is,'' said Cristie Kerr, who at 38 is more than twice Ko's age. ''She's such an old soul. It's hard to believe she's that young. ... There's that saying, 'Youth is wasted on the young.' They don't know what they have until they are my age, right? But she has such a great, easy disposition about her. She puts everybody around her at ease. I think she'll be that way for the rest of her life.''

Tiger Woods was 21 when he won his first PGA Player of the Year Award. Wayne Gretzky was 19 when he won his first NHL MVP. Jim Brown was 21 when he captured NFL MVP honors and neither Major League Baseball nor the NBA has ever had an MVP younger than 22.

Put in that company, she is a phenom among phenoms. Annika Sorenstam, for example, didn't get her first LPGA win until she was 24.

''Lydia is on a whole other level,'' said LPGA veteran Brittany Lincicome. ''It's like an Annika level. To be 18 years old, I was trying to shoot somewhere close to even par when I was 18 years old. Now I'm 30 and she still kicks my butt every year. To be so young and so talented and to be so humble and so sweet, she's really the whole package.''

Even though Ko is in the mix to win just about every time she tees it up, that's another fascinating element to her story. The players that she's beating every week, the players who've watched her collect nearly $5 million in earnings already and another $2 million by winning the Race to CME Globe bonuses in each of the last two years, they really like her.

''I heard her swear once,'' Michelle Wie said.

So she's not perfect.

''I don't know how a person can be that nice,'' Wie said. ''I would probably explode inside.''

Ko tries not to let fame or fortune change anything. When her friends spot someone who they think recognizes her at the mall, Ko usually tries to get them talking about something else. And though she's long been labeled a golf prodigy, many find her to be remarkably well grounded.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan talks with Ko often. It's rarely about golf.

''I don't know how to describe what Lydia Ko is doing,'' Whan said. ''I mean you know sometimes when you're watching history and you sort of tell yourself, I'm watching history, but I don't really grasp it when I'm standing in the range talking to her. And if you play a practice round with her or pro-am you grasp it even less. Because she doesn't seem to be caught up in it at all.''

For Ko, that's the key.

''I think I've been very fortunate to have a very supportive team around me,'' Ko said. ''I think they have definitely helped me keep grounded, always saying 'Hey, even if I win one week, it's a whole new week and let's go in fresh, obviously confident.' Not being like, 'Hey, I'm the champion and world No. 1 and all that.'

''My team has really been helpful in that aspect. I don't know if I could be in this position without them.''

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.