Ko's late-season fatigue understandable, coach says

By Randall MellOctober 27, 2016, 10:12 pm

Lydia Ko summed up her opening round Thursday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia as “not bad but not fantastic” after she made birdie at the last to post an even-par 71.

That sums up where Ko is at as she heads down the home stretch with Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, CME Globe and money title honors all at stake.

Ko has been so “fantastic” since hitting the tour as a 15-year-old phenom, we aren’t used to any sort of lingering run of ordinary from her, even this short spell at season’s end.

No matter how this year finishes, Ko has had a great year. She has won five times around the world, four of them LPGA titles, one of those a major, but she has been less than her best since winning that silver medal at the Olympics in August. She tied for 51st at the KEB HanaBank Championship last week, her worst finish this year. She tied for 20th at the Fubon Taiwan Championship the week before and tied for 43rd at the Evian Championship before that.

Ko is cumulatively 6 over par over her last 11 rounds.

Thrown into this was some tumult in the news that she fired her caddie of two years, Jason Hamilton, after the final round of the KEB HanaBank last week. They won 10 LPGA titles together, two of them majors. There has also been speculation she’s making a swing change.

Ko’s coaches say we’re likely seeing some fatigue in Ko, as well as some natural emotional challenges, given how close Ko and Hamilton were as a team before the break, and given all the extra demands that are thrust on the Rolex world No. 1.

“Lydia has put herself in a position for absolutely another great year,” said Sean Hogan, David Leadbetter’s longtime associate, who teams with Leadbetter to coach Ko. “She has already achieved so much this year, in terms of wins, another major, all the top 10s and the Olympic silver medal. We are very happy where she is at.

“Yeah, there’s probably been a little lull here, but we have gotten sort of spoiled over the last three seasons. It may be a point where there’s a bit of fatigue from a long season, a lot of boxes checked off of goals she has already achieved and maybe a bit of stress from letting the caddie go.”

Hogan said Ko is not working through any swing changes. They’re happy with the swing they’ve built and the work now is just massaging the changes they’ve made since taking her on three years ago. They strengthened Ko’s grip when she joined them, fixed her club’s shut face at the top and turned her fade into a draw, something the family requested when they brought Ko to them.

“We don’t have any major swing agenda going on now,” Hogan said. “I would say we’re always trying to polish this swing that’s worked so well.

“Maybe we’re seeing a little different form, but it’s been a long season and summer without much of a break. I think there has been the combination of the workload and the bit of stress letting go of the caddie, all factoring into a little fatigue in the swing efficiency.”

Hogan spent a week with Ko at the KEB HanaBank Championship.

“She is handling it all well,” Hogan said.

Ko trails Ariya Jutanugarn in Rolex Player of the Year points, Race to the CME Globe points and in money winnings, but they’re tight races. After this week, Ko will play two of the remaining three LPGA events, the Toto Japan Classic and the CME Group Tour Championship.

Hogan said the formula now is trying to make sure Ko is rested while continuing to polish elements of her swing.

“We’re reiterating what’s been so successful while trying to give her a bit of confidence through these last three events,” Hogan said.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.