Jang's charm returns as she leaves incident behind

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2017, 4:07 pm

If you weren’t up at 2 in the morning (Eastern Time) to see Ha Na Jang win the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, you missed an electrifying show.

It wasn’t just the way Jang played coming home.

It was the way she played to the crowd.

It was the way she performed, because this woman delivered about as high voltage a performance as you’ll see in golf, turning fairways into catwalk runways and greens into stages.

If Beyonce played golf, she would play the way Jang does.

Nobody has more fun winning than Jang, and that was great to see again after the troubles she endured last year, where controversy and criticism seemed to zap the spirit and even the health of this high-energy, South Korean star.

Jang’s 10,000-watt smile was back in play in Australia.

So were her animated celebrations.

This woman is making an art form of the fist pump, from circular overheads to underhands.

While there was no repeat of last year’s Samurai lasso dance in Ocala, or the Beyonce “Single Ladies” dance in Singapore, there was what looked like some kind of kangaroo hop for Aussie fans before the trophy presentation.

When Jang wins, the trophy presentation is absolutely part of the show. Nobody has more fun with the trophy. She kissed the bowl that looks like a queen’s crown, and then she balanced it on her head for photographers.

“My target is five wins this year,” Jang said.

Yes, her confidence is high again, too.

Jang, 24, won three LPGA titles last year, more than anyone outside Ariya Jutanugarn (5) and Lydia Ko (4), but her early momentum was stifled with that controversial mishap at the Singapore airport in March, before the HSBC Women’s Champions. That’s where Jang’s father dropped a heavy travel bag down an escalator, striking In Gee Chun in the lower back, knocking Chun out of the event and a couple other events with injuries to her lumbar muscles, sacroiliac joint and pelvis.

The incident set off a social media firestorm in South Korea that affected both of these young stars.

What happened in that Singapore airport was a shame, because Jang and Chun are both special players, dynamic presences with a star quality that is connecting them to fans beyond their loyal Korean bases.

We saw that Sunday in Australia, where “The Jang Gang,” a group of Aussie men, led a large gallery’s boisterous support.

Four shots down stepping to the 13th tee in the final round at Royal Adelaide, Jang caught fire. She made birdie there, birdie at the 14th, eagle at the 17th and birdie at the 18th.

Jang won by three shots in a dizzying seven-shot swing over the final six holes.

Chun has her own charismatic style. We saw her electric smile all week at Evian last year, where she won her second major championship in a tour de force performance. She won with a 21-under total, the lowest score in relation to par in the history of major championship golf.

Chun has her own colorfully nicknamed tournament following, too. They are “The Flying Dumbos.” Chun is nicknamed “Dumbo,” a moniker she says her coach gave her for her “natural curiosity,” like the Disney baby elephant.

It was good to see these two players paired together at the KPMG Women’s PGA last June, when they appeared to put behind them any lingering difficulties.

“To be honest, it wasn’t easy to face Ha Na again at the tournament site,” Chun told GolfChannel.com back then. “But it was nice to see her back, at the same time. Things can happen. Things got screwed up, but like I said before, what’s done is done. We are cool now.”

Jang’s flamboyant style didn’t fly well in South Korea after the Singapore incident. There was a severe backlash against her from fans who thought her celebrations in Singapore were disrespectful, given the controversy swirling at the time. So, Jang cut out her dances and toned down her fist pump celebrations.

“Now every day, crying in my room,” Jang said back at the Founders Cup in Phoenix, just a couple weeks removed from the incident.

In late spring, Jang left the LPGA for a while and returned to South Korea, where she was hospitalized for dizziness, vomiting and insomnia. She said she was diagnosed with anemia, but there were emotional issues, too.

Jang and Chun are both committed to play next week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, and from there they are both scheduled to fly off to the HSBC Women’s Champions, where their return to Singapore is bound to rekindle memories of last year’s airport incident.

It’s great for golf that these two stars head there back on track, back on their upwardly mobile paths, because they are both entertaining to watch and they’re both great for the game.

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 Web.com 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.