Competition for S. Korean Olympic team heating up

By Randall MellFebruary 2, 2016, 2:15 am

OCALA, Fla. – Winning the Coates Golf Championship this week will be more difficult than winning an Olympic gold medal.

A bunch of LPGA events this year will feature stronger, deeper fields than women will see in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

The Coates Golf Championship is host to 42 of the top 60 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. If the Olympics were played today, it would be host to only 26 of the top 60.

While the Olympics won’t feature the deepest field in women’s golf, the games will feature a deeply diverse field with so many different nations represented. It will feature a lot of women from emerging golf nations. The Olympics might be the best business plan golf has put forth yet to grow the game. That’s the bottom line business deal to golf’s return to the Olympics. It’s why Belgium’s Chloe Leurquin at No. 425 in the world, Chile’s Paz Echeverria at No. 430 and Brazil’s Victoria Lovelady at No. 501 would be playing if the Olympics were staged today.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is hoping the Olympics will prove a boon to interest in the women’s game.

“When I talk to people from other Olympic sports, they say, `You know Mike, you have what all of us want. You have the distribution network to take advantage of a big exposure moment,’” Whan said. “If your sport is kayaking or diving, and you get one big Olympic lift, you can't leverage it on a worldwide basis to the next weekend and the weekend after that and the weekend after that. You may have an exciting Olympic moment, but it is difficult to turn that moment into a regular following.

“In my case, if you like what you see in Rio, the week after we are at the Canadian Women's Open. We are on TVs in 175 countries. If more people than ever before stumble into women's golf at the Olympics, there’s a path to keep following us. A lot of other Olympic sports don’t have that path.”

Yes, the competition won’t be nearly as deep in Rio as it will be at the U.S. Women’s Open or Ricoh Women’s British Open, but does it really matter? Does it really matter in how Olympic gold will be valued?

An Olympic gold medal weighs slightly more than one pound (531 grams), but the real weight of it can’t be measured so finitely. For a lot of women around the world, a gold medal will be weighted with more nationalistic pride than any other golf trophy they could possibly win.

Ask South Korea’s Sei Young Kim.

What would she rather win this year? The U.S. Women’s Open or a gold medal?

“A gold medal,” Kim said. “It would be bigger than winning a major, because this will be first time for us, first Olympics for us in golf. That’s what makes it so very big. The Olympics is the reason I came over to play the LPGA. I’m trying very hard to make the Olympic team, and the world rankings points you get playing the LPGA are so important.”

A gold medal’s importance varies in golf according to the country a player calls home.

“Whether I win an Olympic medal or not is not going to define my career or change whether I've fulfilled my career,” Australia’s Adam Scott, winner of the 2013 Masters, said last year. “It's nothing I've ever aspired to do, and I don't think I ever will. It's all about the four majors, and I think that's the way it should stay for golf.”

For South Korean women, the Olympic quest couldn’t be more intense. As the dominant force in women’s golf, interest in the projected makeup of the South Korean women’s Olympic team is high back in South Korea.

“A lot of Koreans are expecting a South Korean to win the gold medal,” said Na Yeon Choi, who is the defending champion at the Coates Golf Championship. “There is a lot of curiosity about who’s going to win it. So there’s going to be a lot of pressure to win it. There’s a lot of pressure now just to make the team.”

The Olympics will feature a field of 60 players in both the women’s and men’s competitions based on the world golf rankings. There’s a limit of two players per country who can qualify, unless players are among the top 15 in the world, then the limit is four players per country.

The fiercest battle being waged in women’s golf this year is over who’s going to make the South Korean team. There are eight South Koreans among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, compared to just three Americans, so jockeying to make the Korean team is already intense.

“Back home, every Monday, the media lists who the Olympic qualifiers are in golf,” said Choi, who is the ninth highest ranked South Korean at No. 19 in the world. “Every week, they calculate who’s in and who’s out.”

Hyo Joo Kim’s victory Sunday at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic bumped her from No. 10 to No. 7 in the world rankings. More importantly, it moved her to the fourth highest ranked Korean woman in the world, vaulting her over In Gee Chun and Amy Yang. If the Olympics were staged today, the Korean team would be made up of Inbee Park (No. 2 in the world), Sei Young Kim (No. 5), So Yeon Ryu (No. 6) and Hyo Joo Kim.

While there will also be intense competition among American women to make the Olympic team, you don’t see Olympic women’s golf rankings in newspapers every Monday.

“A lot depends on how ingrained golf is in your country’s sports culture, if golf is part of your DNA,” said J.S. Kang of Sterling Sports Management, whose clients include South Koreans Seon Hwa Lee, Jeong Jang and Jennifer Song, who is also a U.S. citizen. “In South Korea, golf is still a relatively new game. The Olympics is just a bigger showcase. You grow up watching people stand on that podium, with the flag going up. That doesn’t happen in major championships in golf.

“If you win a gold medal in South Korea, the country rewards you financially. They don’t reward you if you win a major championship.”

The reward for winning a gold medal in Sochi two years ago was a lump sum payout of $62,500 for South Korean athletes, or monthly payment system that could ultimately net a player $250,000.

“When you are from a small country that doesn’t get a lot of athletic recognition, standing on the podium with a gold medal is the goal you grow up with and you dream about,” Kang said.

That’s why when South Koreans open the sports pages in their country Monday, they won’t be looking just to see how their countrywomen placed at the Coates Golf Championship. They’ll be looking to see how they’re placed in the newest Olympic women’s golf rankings.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x