All eyes on Ko as she tries to make history at the ANA

By Randall MellMarch 31, 2015, 4:30 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lydia Ko is redefining the word phenom.

She is drawing history as her regular playing partner.

Even LPGA founders, the women who created the tour, are in awe of what Ko’s achieving.

“She’s a blossoming star,” Shirley Spork says.

Hall of Famers are gaping in wonder.

“She’s incredible,” Patty Sheehan says.

“She amazes me,” Annika Sorenstam says.

When Ko tees it up Thursday at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, she will be looking to post her 29th consecutive round under par in an LPGA event. That would equal Sorenstam’s mark as best ever on tour.

It’s staggering what Ko is achieving given she doesn’t even have a driver’s license yet.

At 14, she became, at the time, the youngest male or female to win a professional golf tournament, claiming the NSW Open title on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour.

At 15, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA event at the Canadian Women’s Open.

At 16, she won the Canadian Women’s Open again and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

At 17, she took home the biggest payday in the history of women’s golf, claiming $1.5 million as the CME Group Tour Championship winner and Race to the CME Globe winner. Still 17, with a staggering eight worldwide professional victories already on her resume, Ko ascended to Rolex world No. 1, becoming the youngest player to top the world rankings in men’s or women’s professional golf.

With some grumbling last month over whether she had yet done enough to earn the world No. 1 ranking, Ko answered eloquently, winning in back-to-back weeks, taking the Women’s Australian Open and New Zealand Women’s Open as her ninth and 10th pro titles.


Photos: Lydia Ko through the years

All of this leads to some big questions this week:

Is Ko ready to win her first major championship?

And does she need to win the ANA Inspiration to definitively separate herself from Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis as the best player in the women’s game?

History will be shadowing Ko once more. If she makes the leap into Poppie’s Pond Sunday, she will do so as the youngest major champion the women’s game has ever known at 17 years, 11 months and 12 days old. She would be almost a full year younger than Morgan Pressel was when she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2007. Young Tom Morris would be the only player to have won a professional major at a younger age than Ko, and he set the mark 147 years ago.

David Leadbetter, Ko’s swing coach, believes her game is in a good place at a major. The changes they made last year, turning her primary ball flight from a fade to a draw, have taken hold.

“She’s playing the game,” Leadbetter said. “She’s not playing swing, as was the case, to a certain extent, last year.”

Ko hasn’t logged a finish worse than T-7 this year. She is working on 10 consecutive top-10 finishes dating back to last year.

“She’s very confident right now,” Leadbetter said. “She’s ready to perform well. There’s no reason why not. She’s got the game.”

Ko is hitting the ball farther than she ever has. She averages 253 yards per drive, ranking 31st on tour in driving distance. That’s up from 66th her rookie year. She ranks better Stacy Lewis (58th) and Inbee Park (70th) this year.

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin believes Ko’s stats don’t fully capture how much more power she’s gaining.

“I think she has another gear when she wants to hit the ball farther,” Rankin said.

Ko is second in scoring on tour (69.0) to Hyo Joo Kim (68.87), and she’s second in greens in regulation (82.4 percent) to Inbee Park (83.1 percent). She’s sixth in putts per GIR.

With the ANA’s approach, Ko is hearing all the talk about the possible history this week.

“I've been watching Golf Channel, and they've been saying the spotlight is kind of on me,” Ko said. “It’s going to be, definitely, a tough week. I know that all the girls are trying to bring their A games together, and that's what I’ve got to do. I'm just going to try and have fun.  Hopefully, I'll hit some really good shots, make some good putts and give myself a good run for it.”

As precociously cool as Ko seems to be under pressure, she’s not immune to it.

This will be her 13th start in a major, but she’s still learning how best to approach them.

“Two years ago, I said, `Oh my God, it's a major.’ This is where everyone tries to perform at their best,’ and all I was thinking was, `Major, major, major. It’s a major,’” Ko said. “I think that kind of threw me off a little bit. At the end of the day, it should be another tournament. The greatest players are there, yes, but that's kind of what it's like every week.”

Ko’s best performance in a major was her second-place finish at Evian two years ago, when she pushed Suzann Pettersen hard to the end. Ko has three top-10s in her 12 starts in majors. She was third at last year’s LPGA Championship and tied for eighth at last year’s Evian. She tied for 29th at the Kraft Nabisco last year and tied for 25th there two years ago, her only starts at that championship.

“I don't know, just something about majors, it really makes me nervous,” Ko said. “I know the first major I played was the U.S. Open. I couldn't even line up my ball on the first green, because I was so nervous.”

Ko says her goal is just to give herself a chance to win majors. She’ll have five chances this year to beat Pressel’s record as the youngest winner of a women’s major.

“Everyone says, `Oh, you're going to be the youngest winner in a major and all that,’” Ko said. “But to me, it's more important that I have fun playing the majors, and I play more consistently in them. That's been my goal because, you know, if I play consistently and get used to playing these great tournaments, I think that it will give me a better chance of hopefully being around the lead, rather than my goal being: `I want to win this major.’”

Given her impressive consistency, it will be an upset if Ko doesn’t give herself a chance to make more history this week.

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.