Their Own Words Bobby Jones Golf

By Casey BiererOctober 7, 2006, 4:00 pm
Editors Note: The Bobby Jones Golf Company was conceived by the family of Bobby Jones ( a group known as the Jonesheirs) and entrepreneur Walter Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal immediately sought the involvement of famed golf club designer Jesse Ortiz and a deal for the exclusive world wide license was secured by the Bobby Jones Golf Company.
Jesse Ortiz is best known as the man behind the meteoric rise of the Orlimar Golf Company. His TriMetal and Hip Ti wood designs were considered by many to be some of golfs most revolutionary advancements. He comes to the Bobby Jones Golf Company with over thirty years of design experience.

A Conversation with Jesse Ortiz, Chief Designer, The Bobby Jones Golf Company
Jesse, give us the Ortiz family history in golf.
Jesse Ortiz
Jesse Ortiz, Chief Designer, The Bobby Jones Golf Company
Sure, Casey. My dad started Orlimar in 1960. My dad was a tool and die maker by trade. He was a tool and die maker for a company called Pelton Water Wheel in the warehouse area of San Francisco. They made parts for large turbines for PG&E. He didnt know a golf club head from a grip to a shaft. But, he had a buddy of his who was working at a small golf company near the Olympic Club called Fernquist & Johnson. Old timers might remember Fernquist & Johnson as the company that made golf clubs for Ken Venturi and Tony Lema. They were local boys in the San Francisco area. So my dads buddy kind of got him interested in repairing and making clubs. And thats really how Orlimar got startedrepair work and making persimmon woods.
When did you get involved with the company?
I got in there when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I think that was in about 1955 or 1956.
And that was a natural thingfor you to start working with your dad?
Thats a nice way of putting it. With my dad, it was more like, hey kid, youre twelve years old. Its time to get to work. Thats the way it was with my dad. He was raised in the old country ' the Basque country in the northern part of Spain ' and thats the way it was. You were a kid, you worked. If it was a family business, you did what you could. Im fond of saying that my first job with my dad was dumping out the coffee cans scattered around the shop that were filled with rain water from the leaks in the roof.
So, he gave you all the glamorous stuff to work on?
Yeah, right. By the time I was 14 I was working on clubs. I was pouring epoxy inserts, re-epoxying sole plates, putting the score lines in irons, drilling the bore necks for the persimmon woodsall that kind of stuff I was doing. And the more I got involved the more I got in to the more critical aspects of facing the clubs and things like that. So, I guess you could say it was natural for me to get involved, but really, it was expected. Fortunately, it grew on me and I learned to love golf club repair and eventually golf club design.
What do you remember as your first sophisticated design effort?
I would say in 1978, somewhere around there, when I was in my early 20s. Thats when I started to really get in to the formal design work. My dad and I worked on a shallow-face, compact, laminated wood called the Diamond. It had a very heavy sole plate with some inverted runners. If you ever saw the original Diamond model club, you could clearly see the lineage between it and what became the TriMetal. Of course, the TriMetal came some 20 years later, however, the Diamond was the predecessor.
You had a great run with Orlimar and eventually decided to move on from there.
I left Orlimar at the beginning of 2003. When you do this all your life, golf club design, this is your life. At my age I wasnt going to start getting involved in another industry. Golf is it for me. So when I left Orlimar ' for a lot of reasons, by the way ' I knew that I was going to stay in the industry and do things on my own.
Towards the end at Orlimar, and this is no secret, you had serious issues with the way distribution was being handledisnt that correct?
I did. Even at the height of our success I learned that if you dont control distribution correctly a lot of people get a hold of your product that dont really care about maintaining the integrity of the brand. And thats very dangerous in golf. So I made it a priority in my own mind that thoughtful distribution and maintaining brand integrity would be front and center of my next golf venture.
How did things get started with Bobby Jones Golf?
Walter Rosenthal, a wonderful entrepreneur and now the chairman and CEO of The Bobby Jones Golf Company , gave me a call. Walter is a friend of a friend of mine. Walter had read an article about the Bobby Jones Company and Hartmarx Corp. ' thats the parent company that produces the Bobby Jones apparel line ' and how the people behind Bobby Jones, a group known as the Jonesheirs, were looking to expand the Bobby Jones brand in to more of a lifestyle brand that would include premium golf clubs.
Wasnt Callaway involved with the Bobby Jones name for some time?
Well, yes. Ely Callaway originally bought what was then the Hickory Stick Company and he quickly put Bobby Jones name on the wedges to give it some special cache. In late 99 or maybe 2000, I think, Callaway gave up the license rights to the name and those rights reverted back to the Jonesheirs. When Walter learned they were looking to reinvigorate the hard goods aspect of the business, he contacted the appropriate parties and started a dialog. But the Jonesheirs were skeptical initially. I remember Walter telling me they told him they were getting three or four calls a week from people looking to use the Jones name for a golf equipment business. The Jonesheirs were being very careful about their next move and even though Walter was an extremely successful and well respected businessman, they were looking for more of a hook.
And during that time is when Walter contacted you?
Thats right. He asked me if I would be interested in becoming involved. We talked at length about what kind of a company it would be, what kind of product we would make and what our distribution model would look like. When it became obvious that Walter and I saw eye to eye on many if not most of those things, I agreed to become involved. So when Walter passed my name along to the attorney for the Jonesheirs, the response was very positive.
That got the ball rolling?
Yes. We had a meeting in Atlanta with Bob Jones IV and several other key people and things went very well. In fact, in the six weeks leading up to the meeting, I designed a driver and a fairway wood that I thought would capture the classic essence of the Bobby Jones brand image we would be going for as well as incorporate the latest technology features I was working on in my shop. And I brought the prototypes with me to the meeting.
I take it the response was quite good?
They were very excited, I must say. The combination of Walters passion and commitment as a businessman together with the golf club design and golf industry expertise I was bringing to the table made for a good fit for the Jonesheirs. I believe they were comfortable that we would do everything in our power to protect the integrity of the Jones name as we built and grew the company. So, under Walters guidance, we were able to secure an exclusive, worldwide license from the Joneheirs.
Lets back up for just a second. When Walter initially contacted you, was it a no-brainer on your part to get involved or did you have to think about it?
I think instinctively I knew it was a good fit. I had learned of Walters success in business and the more I talked to him the more I recognized his passion for this venture was real. The Bobby Jones name speaks for itself. The name personifies quality, dignity, integrity and grace. My background in golf being what it is, pretty successful Id have to say, things just added up to making sense. So it didnt really take me too long to decide that I wanted to get involved in the venture.
Youve been involved for a while now. Are you pleased so far?
Original Bobby Jones Gift Set -- FREE SHIPPING! Limited time offer.
Very pleased. The combination of the three elements Ive referenced ' Walter, the Bobby Jones name, and my skills ' have turned out to be something very special. The sum of the parts is very strong. And Im not just saying that because Im involved. Seeing it from the eyes of an industry veteran, looking at the situation from the outside looking in, so to speak, I think we have something very unique and special in golf and I am very excited about our future.
For many golf fans, myself included, the name Bobby Jones elicits almost a skip in the heartbeat when you think of his accomplishments and what he means to the history of the game. Do you feel a sizable responsibility to match the reverence of Bobby Jones name with a product and brand image worthy of the association?
Bobby Jones Golf
Bobby Jones hybrid golf club.
Oh, most definitely. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to do justice to the name. I mean, my name ' Jesse Ortiz ' is side by side with the name Bobby Jones right on our clubs. Are you kidding? Thats amazing. I dont take it lightly at all. I know where Bobby Jones sits in the hierarchy of golf royalty. I honestly believe that I have to make golf clubs that are more beautiful and perform better than any other clubs out there simply because of the image of the Bobby Jones brand and the legacy of his name. Quite frankly, Im humbled by the situation. I always kid around with Walter and the rest of the partners about my name being on the clubs along side Bobby Jones name. That was not my idea, trust me. Walter pushed very hard for that, though.
Why do you think that is?
I think Walter and the investors believed that it was important to link the Bobby Jones name with a name that had a proven track record on the design and technology side of the business. They want people to know that Bobby Jones golf clubs arent just pretty to look at. They want people to know that they perform up to the highest quality playing standards, as good if not better than any of the other top manufacturers in golf today. And Ive got to tell you, Casey, this is the best stuff I have ever made, without a doubt. As much as I believed in previous successful designs of mine, I believe in these new designs that much more.
Youve got some pretty heavy duty institutional finance muscle associated with The Bobby Jones Golf Company.
We do have quite a bit of firepower behind us. We have the Hartmarx Corporation and Hickey-Freeman, we have the Jonesheirs, we have a strong investment group behind us; there is a lot of business muscle there. And the most exciting thing to me about having the kind of support we have is we are being allowed to position and grow the company with a distribution plan in the retail sector that makes sense for long-term sustained growth rather than the make a quick buck scheme you see all too often in the golf industry these days. Thats the most exciting thing to me. Its very important that we do this thing right. The Bobby Jones name is too valuable to mess around with. We dont have to be the biggest company out there. However, we do have to be the best at what we do.
Tell us a little bit about Walter Rosenthal.
I wish everybody could get to meet and know Walter the way I have. Walter has more passion in his little pinkie finger than most people have in their whole bodies. He lives, breathes, eats, sleeps and bleeds Bobby Jones and the whole image of the brand. Hes been committed from the very beginning and hes taken the responsibility to heart that we are caretakers of this iconoclastic brand, Bobby Jones. His understanding of the responsibility we have to the Jonesheirs is a guiding light for how we operate. His business acumen combined with his respect for the Jones name and brand image is a very special combination.
I guess it could be said you translate the passion and respect for the brand to the actual golf clubs themselves. Lets switch gears and talk about the clubs now. First of all, whats your take on the explosion of the hybrid market in general?
I think it makes perfect sense and its actually been in the works for quite some time. You can trace it back years and years ago in Japan, actually. Thats really where hybrids first burst on to the scene because they were easier for golfers of a slight stature ' even easier than fairway woods ' to play with. Companies like PRGR in Japan were way ahead of the curve when they introduced hybrids that replaced 1-irons and 2-irons. Then, here in the United States, TaylorMade really capitalized on the initial hybrid explosion and it has spread to just about every major manufacturer at this point. And the category is only going to grow. Look at the Champions Tour. Those guys started out replacing their 1-irons and 2-irons, maybe their 3-irons. Now there are guys out there who have hybrids all the way down to the 4-iron loft. You see a huge infusion on the Nationwide Tour and even to some degree on the regular PGA Tour.
So the perception of hybrids being strictly of a game improvement nature is changing?
It really is. And rightfully so. With rare exception, the best players in the world are playing hybrids now. So, not only do they have wonderful game improvement characteristics, they can be tuned and fitted for very good players as well. Thats a very exciting development. 2-irons and 3-irons are becoming a thing of the past. For an amateur golfer not to take full advantage of what hybrids have to offer is just crazy. The category, in my opinion, is just going to keep growing.
Are hybrids going to replace fairway woods?
No, I dont think so. Hybrids might replace a 5-wood or a 4-wood in some good players bags, however, the average golfer is still better off with a true 3-wood or 5-wood because the ball is going to go longer with those clubs. And average golfers are usually struggling to find distance. But as far as the 2-iron, 3-iron and 4-iron, theres no question the average golfer is better off with hybrids. Again, I say look at the Champions Tour. What we all wouldnt give to hit it as good as those guys do and they are switching to hybrids in droves. I mean, the writing is on the wall.
Tell us about the Bobby Jones hybrid.
Youre talking about my bread and butter now. A lot of my heart and soul has gone in to the design and manufacturing of our Bobby Jones line of golf clubs, not the least of which is our hybrid. With all the clubs in our line, my driving philosophy has been if Bobby Jones were alive today, could he grab one of our clubs, address a ball, and in a split second say, yeah, I can play with that. At the same time, my challenge was to satisfy the needs of a golfer trying to break 100 for the first time.
Are hybrids now being designed more for better players or still more for average players?
In the last couple of years, I think as I looked at the competitive marketplace I saw a trend going to hybrids designed for much better players. In my opinion, the thinking en masse was kind of like, well, high handicap players are going to buy hybrids come what may. But, we (manufacturers) better design hybrids that better players can play. And that meant making hybrids with a distinctly iron look. So manufacturers kind of got away from game improvement hybrids to a certain degree.
Are hybrids more difficult to use than they were when they first came out?
Some of them are by the intentional virtue of their design. They were becoming less user friendly, as it were. Even the ones that looked semi wood-likethey have kind of big fat barrel hosels. They have flat soles like an iron, the faces are flat. These are all design features that work against the average golfer. I wanted to get something that was very classic looking, more of a cleek style, and thats what people tell me about our hybrid.
That it looks like a cleek?
Well, that its got a kind of classic look to it. When you set them on the ground, they kind of look like those long nose cleeks from 100 years ago. There is a very nostalgic look, however, low and behold, that nostalgic look is very important to the playability of the club. If you look at the club ' the longish toe ' they are also quite triangular in shape. The apex of the club is slightly lowered when you look down at it at address. I have a patent on the location of the apex on the club. The particular location of this apex helps the club to be more stable on off center hits. So, even though the club looks like something Bobby Jones would be comfortable playing, it actually has state-of-the-art technology built in to it.
What type of trajectory can people expect from your hybrid?
I think a lot of the hybrids now, designed for better players, have a lower trajectory, more boring and hotter long iron type trajectory. They really fly like a traditional 2-iron or
3-iron. My hybrid is very different. Mine is designed to go much higher and land and then stop when it lands. Its also designed to be more versatile out of nastier lies. So, theres really two schools of thought out there. Guys out on the Champions Tour either tell me, Jesse, when I hit your hybrid it goes too high for me and Im not getting enough roll. Other guys say, Jesse, your hybrid is exactly what Im looking for. Im looking for a club that goes 2-iron distance but its all in the air and when it lands its like landing on a cocktail napkin.
The Champions Tour aside, what type of ball trajectory do you think benefits mid and higher handicap golfers?
I think virtually ever golfer who is a 10-handicap or higher will benefit greatly from the type of trajectory the Bobby Jones hybrid offers. Now, maybe the super hotshot low handicap golfer will go for a different style of hybrid. And thats really how I design in a nutshell. I know I have to design clubs that can be played by the best players in the world, but, I also know that the business of golf is driven at the consumer level. So ultimately, the clubs in the Bobby Jones line must appeal to the consumer. And the great majority of consumer golfers are mid to high handicap players. They want 2-iron or 3-iron distance but they want that distance to come in the air.
Well, this may also present you with an opportunity. Establish a retail track record with the current hybrid and then come out with a tour oriented hybrid down the road.
Thats exactly right. I spend so much time out on the tour now I see what these guys really want. Now again, I think about half of them want the ball flight my hybrid offers now. But, the other half of them want that iron like trajectory. So, I think I can design a hybrid down the road that will satisfy their needs as well. Now, trajectory aside, I do think my hybrid performs out of the rough and out of difficult lies as well if not better than anything else out there. Thats where the unique shape really comes in to play. I dont know if there is another club out there that rivals the Bobby Jones hybrid in terms of coming out of difficult lies.
Ive heard you talk quite a bit about hosel neck thickness and length. What have you done with that in your current line?
My hybrid has a very thin neckits a very short neck. All these other hybrids have iron style necks. You dont need a bunch of weight up there. You dont need 30 or 40 grams stuck way above the ball. The whole purpose of a hybrid is to get a club in your hands that has a much lower CG than your iron. So when you design a hybrid, why not make it with absolutely the lowest and deepest center of gravity you can produce because thats what is going to give you the highest trajectory shots with the softest landing. I think every average golfer can benefit from that. Thats what they need. They dont want to be hitting hot shots and they miss it a bit and it hits off the side of the green and goes 20 yards to the right in to some crap. They want the ball, if they miss-hit it, with my club, the distance will be about the same but it will land soft. So if they are off line, Casey, its going to be as if they took a drop.
What materials are you using in your hybrid?
Well, thats another thing that is special about the Bobby Jones hybrid. No one else is making it the way we do. We still have the same maraging face that we had with the
TriMetal only its even thinner. Its now about 1.6 millimeters. Thats the thinnest face in golf. No one else is making a face that is thinner on their hybrids or fairway woods.
Is that to make it a hotter face?
To make it hotter? No. A hybrid face is so shallow and small that youre not getting any trampoline effect of any significance. The reason I make the face so thin is because I want to move weight away from the front wall. There are three places where weight is an enemy to a golfer. One is the hosel and thats why we have a very thin, very skinny, very light hosel. The other place is the face. If I can make my face 1.6 millimeters and still keep it strong enough that it wont collapse, versus 3 millimeters like many of the other hybrids out there, then that means I have half as much weight on the front wall. The crown is the third place I look to keep light. Our crown is made out of a maraging steel that is forged. And its forged to the thickness of a thin business cardits only 1/3 of a millimeter. It only weighs 10 grams. It weighs what the equivalent piece of graphite weighs. So youve got a 10 gram crown instead of a 40 gram crown. Youve got a face thats only 1.6 millimeters instead of around 3 millimeters ' thats about half the weight. Our hosel is also considerably lighter. You put all that together and it means I can put a lot of weight in the sole and in the rear portion of that sole plate. With the design of the sole plate the way it is, the added weight sitting very low helps you cut through long grass when youre in the rough. And from normal lies, the ball is going to get up in the air quickly. And thats what average golfers should expect from a hybrid. Otherwise, you know what? They might just as well keep their long irons in the bag. Thats my opinion anyway.
The brass Jones medallion on the bottom of the clubis it weighted for performance or is it cosmetic?
Its really cosmetic. It weights about 3 grams or so. Its not really for weight. The reason the medallion is on the clubs is as a tribute to Bobby Jones. A lot of people dont know that Bobby Jones was born on St. Patricks Day. So, in all his tournaments, he used to carry a little medallion that had a four leaf clover on itthat was his good luck charm. What I did is I took a replica of that medallion and superimposed his swinging golfer likeness on it as a tribute to the great Bobby Jones. I think its a classy looking additional cosmetic feature to our clubs.
The whole look of the clubs ' Jaguar green color, the specially designed Winn grips, the old style cloth head covers ' you paid a lot of attention to the appearance and presentation of the clubs.
The colors of the apparel company are dark green, burgundy and gold. I think these colors are very rich. The club heads are this dark Jaguar green and the lettering is gold. The shafts, which we had custom designed for us by Graphite Design, are also green. These are high performance shafts that really enhance the playability of our clubs.
How did you decide on Graphite Design?
Listen, the high end graphite shaft companies are all producing great products these days. I have a personal preference for the Japanese designed shafts because I think they have their fingers on the cutting edge technology of lighter weight graphite shafts. Thats what their market demands. Ive worked with Fujikura, I know Mitsubishi makes very fine shafts, but, I have the most experience working with Graphite Design and I was confident they would give me a shaft that would really enhance the performance of our particular clubs in the Bobby Jones line. So we went with them for our stock shaft.
And as far as your grips go?
I have seen more and more guys on the tour switching to Winn grips. And that got me interested in learning more about Winnlearning about the performance characteristics. And I liked what I learned. The grip also has a certain look to it that I felt worked with the look we were going for. Its an elegant looking grip and Winn is able to do some really nice things with colors that match our color scheme at Bobby Jones Golf. I realize its kind of a love or hate thing with Winn grips. I happen to love it on our clubs and most people Ive talked to are big fans of the grip. So, as our stock grip, I just like the cache of the look of that grip. Most average golfers seem to like the softer feel of the grip. Its a little more user friendly for them. But certainly, a lot of hot shot golfers or better players are going to want a firmer grip. So we do offer the Golf Pride Tour Velvet grip as an option as well. Overall, though, Ive had a lot of great reaction on the Winn grip.
What are your loft options on the hybrid?
Im glad you asked because that is really important. Starting next month, each of the hybrids are going to have a decal on the toe that reads H2, H3, H4 or H5that represents a hybrid that will replace a corresponding iron. So, the
19-degree, which is the most popular one on the Champions Tour, replaces the 2-iron or 5-wood in good players bags. The 21-degree will probably be the most popular for average golfers and that replaces the 3-iron. The 25-degree replaces your 4-iron and the 30-degree will replace your 5-iron.
Give us a sense of carry distance with the different lofted hybrids.
The 19-degree will probably carry anywhere from 205 yards to about 220 yards depending on how much of a hit you can put in it. The H-3 or 21-degree for most amateur players will go somewhere in that 195 yards to 210 yards range. Again, all this is carry distance. The 25-degree will get you in that 185 yards to about 200 yards range, again, depending on what kind of club head speed you are swinging with. The 30-degree is going to fly about 170 yards to about 190 yards depending on the players. Personally, for the average golfer, I think the 25-degree is the miracle club. This is the money club for most amateur players. Its right in that range of carry distance where players are hitting second shots in to challenging par foursthe danger zone I call it. So instead of just getting somewhere close to the green with a 4-iron and then having to hope to get up and down, youre going to hit more greens with this 25-degree hybrid and then youre looking at a two-putt for par. I think this club is virtually on remote control from 185 yards and out. People should do themselves a favor and try this club.
So listen, Jesse, youre optimistic about the future?
Oh, Casey, absolutely. Listen, I know what I make. Please, believe me, I dont want to sound arrogant. But, I know how good these clubs are. Its what I do. We havent had much money to advertise, however, the playability tests done by the magazines and the results of those tests is staggering and very humbling. Weve had nothing but just outrageously positive reviews from everyone. I just believe, and the people behind Bobby Jones Golf believe, that if I can just keep making special stuff, the word is going to get out there. And the great thing is, we dont need to be a 100 million dollar company to do very well. And just as importantly, to be happy. Believe me. Ive been at the top of the mountain and Ill tell you, the view isnt everything its cracked up to be from up there. Well be happy to have a mid-size golf company that delivers the best possible performing product at fair prices using a distribution methodology that keeps our company and the golf industry healthy. All the while protecting the integrity of the Bobby Jones name. And I think we have a great shot at doing just that.
Jesse, its been a real pleasure to talk to you. We wish you all the best.
Casey, thanks. This has been great. I know Ill see you out on the Champions Tour one of these weeks.
You bet. See you out there soon.
Email your thoughts to Casey Bierer

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

You have to give her that.

So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

It was so close to being spectacular.

She was so close to dominating this year.

That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

“No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

“We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

“I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

“Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

“This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

“It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

It worked.

“I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.