Ko, 17, rises to No. 1 despite losing lead on 71st hole

By Randall MellFebruary 1, 2015, 1:18 am

OCALA, Fla. – Lydia Ko might not actually be the youngest No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s professional golf with the release of the newest Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Sure, her birth certificate may say she is 17 years, 9 months and 9 days old when she officially ascends to No. 1 on Monday, but the back nine at the Coates Golf Championship must have aged her 10 years.

It had to age Na Yeon Choi and she took home the winner’s trophy.

In a wild, nerve-racking finish to the LPGA’s season opener, Choi and Ko both went home winners, but not without passing through trials and tribulations that should have left them both plucking premature gray hairs.

After watching Ko birdie the first two holes Saturday to build a four-shot lead at Golden Ocala, Choi fought back to win, prevailing after Ko shanked a shot into the woods at the 17th hole, then skulled a wedge over the 18th green trying to get up-and-down to sneak into a playoff.

While Choi took home the $225,000 winner’s check, Ko took home a historic consolation prize. With her three-way tie for second, Ko secured enough world ranking points to overtake Inbee Park as the newest No. 1 in the Rolex rankings.

Ko beats the mark of Tiger Woods, rising to the top of the rankings 3 years, 8 months and 14 days younger than Woods was when he became No. 1. Woods was 21 years, 5 months and 16 days old in 1997 when he reached the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. Jiyai Shin was the previous youngest No. 1 in women’s golf at 22 years and 5 days old when she got there in 2010.

Coates Golf Championship: Articles, videos and photos

In the end, Ko would have preferred taking home her sixth LPGA title.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Ko said.

Ko said she didn’t realize anything less than a win would get her to No. 1 until her mother, Tina, and her agent, Michael Yim, told her after she signed her scorecard.

“I didn’t win at the end of the day, but I still became No. 1 and that’s pretty awesome,” Ko said.

While a lot of 17-year-olds, and pros a lot older than that, might have been devastated losing the way Ko did, she met the media afterward with poise and grace that belies her youth.

“I always joke that we have to send her to anger management classes, so she can learn to get angry,” David Leadbetter, her swing coach, said afterward.

By the time Ko walked out of the scoring tent, you couldn’t tell if she won or lost this thriller.

“She has an amazing temperament for the game,” Leadbetter said. “She’s just 17, but she walks on this cloud. She doesn’t get overly excited. She doesn’t get overly down.”

Leadbetter believes that same temperament will help Ko deal with all the extra pressure that comes with the top ranking. Standing behind the 18th green in the aftermath, Ko’s mother was asked what she thought of her daughter reaching such lofty status at such a tender age.

“She’s too young,” Tina said. “You just worry about what she feels.”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. It’s a saying that the world’s best players can understand. The onerous weight of the No. 1 ranking was something Yani Tseng struggled with. She has spoken openly about it leading to her swoon after 109 weeks at No. 1.

Leadbetter is there with reassurance for Tina if she needs it.

“She is more worried about it than Lydia is,” Leadbetter said. “Lydia just takes it in stride. It’s not really a big deal to her.

“It’s like when she won CME last year. It was `Ho-hum, a $1.5 million.’ It’s the same way with this. I don’t think the No. 1 mantle is going to affect her at all. She could be there for a while. Although with a lot players right there at the top now, the No. 1 ranking could flip flop for a little bit, but Lydia will be right there. It’s just incredible to think she’s there at 17.”

Jason Hamilton, Ko’s caddie, loved the way Ko took Saturday’s loss in stride, the poise he saw after.

“It’s fantastic,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad you can’t bottle it. It’s one of the qualities that makes Lydia unique.”

Hamilton, by the way, was Tseng’s caddie through Tseng’s rise and fall.

Ko’s head had to be spinning when she signed her scorecard, so much changed so quickly on that back nine. She took a one-shot lead to the 17th tee before blocking her tee shot into a right fairway bunker. From there, she shanked a shot right, into the trees.

Ko said her driver got stuck behind her there, same with the 5-hybrid she half-blocked and half-shanked into the woods, leading to a double bogey. It could have been worse. She holed an 18-footer to avoid a triple bogey. Ultimately, that putt might have given her the points needed to get to No. 1 in the world.

Ko’s misses on the back nine seemed related to misses on the front. Earlier in the round, Ko pull-hooked a tee shot at No. 8 off a tree. She pulled her next shot, hooking it into a greenside bunker, leading to a bogey. At the 15th hole, she pulled a 7-iron wide left of the pin before recovering with a brilliant 60-foot birdie putt there.

“My miss is both right and left,” Ko said. “It’s just my club being a little late behind my body. It creates shots left and right.”

Ko said the same thing happened with her 5-hybrid that went into the woods. Hamilton said the sand was a factor.

“She lost her balance and footing,” he said.

At the 18th, needing to get up and down for birdie from left of the green to force a playoff, Ko skulled a chip over the green. Hamilton said it was a bit of a downhill lie, from a fairly tight lie, and she was trying to hit a flop with a 60-degree wedge that she had to hit precisely.

“I was just so eager,” Ko said. “I just kind of lifted up on it.”

Afterward, Ko wasn’t interested on dwelling long on Saturday’s finish or even a future as No. 1.

“It was my goal to one day be No. 1, but right now, I didn’t expect that,” Ko said. “Everything just hits me by surprise. Like that double at 17. That hit me by surprise, and a lot of good things, too . . . I didn’t win at the end of the day, but I still became world No. 1. That’s pretty awesome.”

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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.