Song is so young that she had to get special permission from commissioner Ty Votaw to attend the LPGAs qualifying tournament last year. She easily got her card and set about the rigors of tournament play this season as a rookie. Had not Wie come along, Song would be the one who has gotten the rave reviews for her play as a teen-ager. As it is, the youngster has already finished in a tie for fifth in her first tournament and one stroke away from a playoff in a major a couple of weeks ago ' and she looks surprisingly similar to a young Nancy Lopez. She finished in a tie for 20th last weekend in The Takefuji Classic.
Song was formerly known as Wonglueket - her mothers name - before changing last year to Song - her fathers name, which is much easier to pronounce. She has a twin sister, Naree, who also turned pro recently and is already on the Futures Tour. But Aree did the Michelle thing long before the world had heard of Wie. Four years ago she played in an LPGA major ' the Kraft Nabisco ' at the age of 13, finishing tie for 10th while playing in the final group.
There is no way, you might imagine, that a 17-year-old has anything in common with the women who play the LPGA. But you would be wrong.
You would be surprised, I get along with all the ladies, Aree said. They have been really nice and it has been great. I played in 15 events as an amateur, so I know everyone out here pretty well.
Her play at the Kraft Nabisco will be discussed for a long time. Song was on the green on No. 18 needing to hole a 30-footer to have a chance to beat Grace Park. Astoundingly, she made the putt for eagle! Unfortunately for Aree, Park, playing in the same group, coolly sank a 6-foot putt for birdie and the win.
Aree - she's got a tremendous amount of talent, said Park. She's already had a successful career, and she just has much more to come.
Since she was a child ' and some people would say she still is ' she planned on being a professional golfer. Aree was an excellent student ' she graduated early ' and actually carried a 4.0 average in her studies at the David Leadbetter Junior Academy in Bradenton. After originally announcing she was taking a scholarship to the University of Florida, she changed her mind after a sparkling summer and petitioned Votaw to turn pro. And she couldnt be happier.
I did it so I could retire early, she joked. Aree has gotten much more comfortable with the media, and thats a good thing because she has repeatedly been asked to come into the interview room this year.
I think it's fun, she said of the media inquisition, as well as being in the spotlight on the course. I enjoy playing in front of people, just because I know it's a good sign that I'm doing well and people are noticing what I'm doing. No, I think everything else is a bonus, really.
She knows there are certain things she has given up by turning pro. There will be no college life. There will be no late-night pizza parties, no adjustment to the career life while she remains in limbo from age 18 to 22, no sororities or clubs.
But, she says, this is what she always wanted, from the time she first picked up a golf club.
There are always sacrifices, Aree said, and when you chose to be a professional golfer, it going to be different than when you choose to play in college.
But I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world. This is my dream.
Her dream began before she can remember, almost to the day that she first went to the two-story driving range with her sister, brother and father in Thailand. She and Naree got a bucket of balls and sat up next to her brother, Chan, who now plays at Georgia Tech.
He said, What are you doing. Aree remembers. We hit it so bad and hit it all over the place. So he told us to go up the next level and hit because he didnt want to hit next to us. So, we tried to hit him a couple of times.
She is officially a rookie, but Aree and sister Naree have been around the tournament seen a long time. From the Open when she was 13, to numerous professional along the way as an amateur, to finally turning professional herself, Aree doesnt feel like a rookie.
I've played in I want to say around maybe 17 or 18 events. So, you know, that almost accounts to one season, she said.
So I'm pretty comfortable out here now, getting to know a lot of the players, the staff. I mean, the comfort level has definitely grown.
Hall of Famer Donna Caponi, now a Golf Channel analyst, marvels at what the youngster has already accomplished. We talked about her being rookie of the year, said Caponi. But her idea is, she wants to win golf tournaments.
Grace Park, who is all of 25 now, shakes her head when she contemplates the life that Aree has chosen. Shes obviously having a great start to her professional career, says Park. All I can say is, she must be tougher and wiser than I was. I was 20, 21 when I came out.
But if there is any different life than the one shes chosen, Aree doesnt see how it could possibly be any better. Shes playing golf, and now theres actually a reason to play tournaments.
It's just nice to know that you can actually get paid, she laughed.
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Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA
Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.
Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.
Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.
With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”
Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.
Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return
Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.
“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”
Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.
According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.
Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.
Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.
“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”
Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.