Emotional Jang ends drought in pouring rain

By Randall MellFebruary 7, 2016, 1:31 am

OCALA, Fla. – It was poetic that Ha Na Jang won the Coates Golf Championship Saturday in the rain.

In its two short years hosting an LPGA event, Golden Ocala is becoming the place where victory droughts end.

It’s already a virtual oasis for South Koreans.

A year after Na Yeon Choi got emotional ending her two-year victory drought at Coates, Jang couldn’t hold back tears as she broke through to win her first LPGA title.

It was emotional for Choi because she was under so much pressure to end her winless spell. She said she was so overwhelmed by fan and media criticism, she nearly switched to a 2G cell phone so she couldn’t connect to the Internet and see all the venom.

“I got hurt from reading that stuff,” Choi said.

Jang, 23, faced similar pressure, failing to win in her LPGA rookie season last year with young South Korean rivals Sei Young Kim, Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun all winning in the United States. Jang beat out all three of those players for the Korean LPGA Player of the Year Award in 2013 but the best Jang could do on the American-based tour last year was four frustrating second-place finishes. Those near misses included her runner-up finish at Coates last year in her LPGA debut.

“Finishing second four times, it’s been heartbreaking,” Jang said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I worked very hard. Finally, I got there and have the win.”

Jang’s animated personality, with her array of fist pumps and quick smile, has caught the attention of fellow pros. With her victory Saturday, she got the attention of a lot of golf fans outside Korea who may not have known who she was.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, photos and videos

When Jang’s last putt fell sealing her victory Sunday, she let loose what she called a “Samurai Lasso” victory celebration. It was even more elaborate than Chi Chi Rodriguez’ sword-sheathing routine.

“I’m just talking the Samurai, the Japanese Samurai,” Jang said.

Jang said she was inspired by Japanese players and a YouTube video of the “Ideal Golf Swing Follow Through” that she saw a couple weeks ago.

“So I try lasso after my putt,” Jang said. “I think it looks like really fun.”

Jang won going wire to wire, leading or sharing the lead after every round. She outdueled Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko to get this first victory. Jang and Ko shared the lead going into the final round, but Jang pulled away from the 18-year-old early Saturday, as Ko uncharacteristically struggled. Even Ko was enamored with Jang’s bubbly personality. Jang said she was emboldened with Ko pushing her on.

“She’s like, 'Ha Na, you can do it! Keep going, keep going,'” Jang said.

Jang had to hold off a pair of gifted phenoms in the end with 18-year-old Brooke Henderson making a strong final-round charge. Jang headed to the 18th tee one shot ahead of Henderson, who was in the clubhouse waiting to see how Jang closed.

“Too much pressure in my mind,” Jang said of stepping over a wedge 110 yards from the flagstick at the 18th.

Jang confidently stuck that last wedge to 6 feet, setting up a closing birdie that gave her a two-shot victory over Henderson.

“She played great right from the start,” Henderson said. “I’m happy for her to win out here.”

Ko enjoyed Jang’s celebration like everyone else.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen that before,” Ko said. “I don’t know how anyone can beat that. It was almost like James Hahn’s Gangnam Style a few years ago. I don’t know who would think of that.”

Ko was impressed at how Jang handled the steady and sometimes heavy rain through the second half of the round.

“Ha Na finished really, really close to winning so many times,” Ko said. “Everyone is happy for her, someone who really deserves it. She’s super talented, and she so deserved this.”

Jang got teary eyed leaving the 18th green looking for her father, Chang Ho Jang. She said even through some recent disagreements and struggles over changes to her game, her father has always encouraged her.

“My dad, every day, every week, is there for me,” Jang said.

Kevin Kim is Jang’s new swing coach. They didn’t begin working together until six weeks ago.

“We’ve made a lot of changes,” Kim said. “We’ve been together almost every day since Dec. 23, from sun up to sun down. It’s been stressful making changes in that short time. Taking them into competition, that’s not easy, but she pulled it off.”

Jang’s caddie, Graeme Courts, was impressed at how his player’s ball striking held up under so much pressure and in such adverse conditions with all the rain.

“She just doesn’t miss a shot,” Courts said. “Her wedge control is excellent. She hits the ball pin high a heck of a lot, and she hits it down the middle of every fairway. She’s obviously good now, but she’s going to be really good.”

Jang was the best at Coates this week.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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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.