Amateur Ko, 15, a serious Kraft contender

By Randall MellApril 4, 2013, 2:07 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The Kraft Nabisco Championship may have to hire a lifeguard to watch over Poppie’s Pond in Sunday’s finish this year.

There’s this young kid who wouldn’t shock the women’s game if she jumped in as the winner of the year’s first major championship.

Lydia Ko is just 15, and it’s not quite clear if she knows how to swim.

“I hope so,” Ko cracked Wednesday.

The women’s game has witnessed its share of phenoms, but nobody quite like Ko.

At 15 years, 4 months and 2 days old, Ko won the CN Canadian Women’s Open last summer to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event. Eight weeks ago, she became the youngest winner of a Ladies European Tour event, claiming the New Zealand Women’s Open. The week after that, she made a serious run at winning the LPGA’s season opener, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Ko shared the 54-hole lead with former world No. 1 Jiyai Shin but faded in the final round.

If Ko were to win the Kraft Nabisco, she would eclipse Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of a major championship by nearly three years. Pressel was two months shy of her 19th birthday when she won at Mission Hills.

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You won’t find an LPGA pro who discounts Ko’s chances.

“I am just completely impressed with her as a player,” Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “I just can’t see where she’s not going anywhere in the next few years but being a very, very significant player.”

Ko, who was born in South Korea but raised in New Zealand since she was 6, doesn’t seem fazed by the game’s largest stages. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur last summer. When she won in Canada two weeks later, she was paired in the final round with Stacy Lewis, the LPGA’s Player of the Year last season and the current Rolex world No. 1. Ko wasn’t intimidated. Lewis started that Sunday one shot behind Ko but ended up six shots behind her.

Notably, Ko is paired with Michelle Wie in the first two rounds this week. As a 13-year-old, Wie tied for ninth in her Kraft Nabisco debut 10 years ago. She was fourth here as a 14-year-old and third as a 16-year-old.

Wie’s struggles of late are evidence that nothing’s certain, but Ko looks good as a possible contender again this week. Her combination of skill and temperament should suit major championship tests. She handles the spotlight so well. When Ko made a run at winning in the Women’s Australian Open, she shot 63 in the first round while in a marquee pairing with Yani Tseng and Wie. She was five shots better than Tseng that day, 11 better than Wie.

“She doesn’t seem like she’s 15 years old,” Tseng said. “She didn’t even look like she was nervous.”

Lewis was also impressed with how unflappable Ko was when she was paired with her in that Sunday final round in Canada.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Lewis said. “I don’t think she even knows how good she is.

“I expect her to come out and play really good this week. She probably doesn’t even really realize it’s a major or a big event. It’s just kind of the way she is. She’s just very calm and relaxed.”

Ko, who turns 16 on April 24, is the female universe’s version of Jason Dufner.

“She talks about being nervous, but, boy, you can never see it,” Rankin said. “She's just very, very calm. She has just a beautiful golf swing, and she seems to play within herself.”

The big question Ko keeps getting is how long she’s going to wait before turning pro.

Karrie Webb was asked before the Women’s Australian Open if Ko should embrace the amateur game a while longer.

“That’s not my advice to her,” Webb said. “Obviously, she’s proven that she’s ready to play professional golf.”

Ko has stated an interest in going to college, but she could turn pro and still do that. So Yeon Ryu won the U.S. Women’s Open while enrolled in college in South Korea. Wie played the LPGA while at Stanford.

“I couldn't really give a certain year of when I will turn pro,” Ko said Wednesday. “We don't normally think about it when we go back home. The time I think about it is when I'm here, getting asked the questions. My parents and I, my coaches, we have never really talked about it seriously.”

Ko is accompanied to tournaments by her mother, Tina Hyon. She picked up a former LPGA and PGA Tour caddie this week, Patrick Boyd, who now works in his family’s home and commercial security business in Southern California.

Hyon told the Sunday Star Times of Auckland, New Zealand, last month that there is no hurry to turn pro.

“I just think she is too young to make such a big decision, she's maybe a couple of years away,” Hyon said. “Lydia will be the one to make the decision. My role as a parent is to make sure she makes the most informed decision.”

A dive into Poppie’s Pond on Sunday would threaten to speed up the timetable.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.