Ko, 17, unfazed by weight of world No. 1 ranking

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2015, 3:26 pm

Even Lydia Ko wasn’t sure how the weight of the Rolex world No. 1 ranking would affect her when she claimed it almost a month ago.

Just two years ago, Yani Tseng proclaimed relief upon losing the top ranking and all the onerous baggage that went with it.

“It drove me crazy,” Tseng said back then. “Everybody wants to be No. 1, but nobody understands how hard it is.”

Ko’s mother, Tina, grabbed her own hair and tugged on it after first learning at the end of the Coates Golf Championship that at 17 Lydia would become the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf.

“Headache,” Tina said with a nervous smile back then. “She’s too young.”

And yet there was Ko Sunday in Australia, walking up the 18th fairway at Royal Melbourne, giggling with fellow teen Ariya Jutanugarn after nearly holing her final approach shot to clinch the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open title. Ko navigated a grueling setup on one of golf’s toughest courses to become the youngest winner of this championship. Though she won’t be 18 until April, Ko claimed her ninth professional victory worldwide, her sixth LPGA title.

Scores: Women's Australian Open

Most notably, she won in just her second start carrying the Rolex No. 1 title.

“I didn’t really know how I would play, how I would react to becoming world No. 1, and I always wondered about that,” Ko said Sunday in her post tournament news conference.

Ko knows now.

“It’s good to know, that just for my confidence, I can still play good and not really think about the world rankings,” Ko said.

It’s not such a good thing to know for all the players chasing Ko. This uncanny teen, with her precocious game, and a temperament that belies her youth, seems as well suited to the No. 1 ranking as her coach thought she would be.

“Lydia just takes it in stride,” Leadbetter said when Ko first took the top ranking. “She walks on this cloud. She doesn’t get overly excited. She doesn’t get overly down.”

Ko will go home to New Zealand as a conquering hero this week. She will play the New Zealand Women’s Open, which she won as a 15-year-old amateur. While Rolex No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis will try to cut into Ko’s world-rankings lead next week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, Ko will be delighting her fellow Kiwis trying to win there.

With a 2-under-par 71 Sunday at Royal Melbourne, Ko won by two shots over runner-up Amy Yang. Ko was the only player to post a score in red numbers every round.

Back at the Pure Silk Bahamas two weeks ago, where Ko teed it up for the first time as world No. 1, there was some debate over whether she really deserved the top ranking. It wasn’t mean spirited grumbling, or even a question of whether Ko was good enough to be No. 1. It was scrutiny of the Rolex rankings formula, and whether Ko had achieved enough yet to be No. 1.

Those doubts obviously didn’t penetrate the fortress Ko plays within, though she admits she gets anxious under pressure like everyone else, even if she doesn’t show it. In fact, she said she was feeling nerves on the front nine Sunday, when she made spectators wonder  if she was going to give away the title.

Ko three putted the first two holes to lose her lead to Yang. At the third hole, however, Ko answered with a lightning bolt before threatening clouds even moved over the course and halted play. She holed a pitch from 65 yards for eagle to re-take the lead.

Back at the LPGA season opener at Golden Ocala, Ko was uncharacteristically shaky coming down the stretch, blowing a chance to win the Coates Golf Championship on the back nine. When she left a delicate flop shot short at Royal Melbourne’s eighth hole, watching it roll back toward her off a steep bank of the green, her  bogey there allowed Yang to move into the lead again.

“Amy was right in front, and I could see that she was making a lot of birdies,” Ko said. “It kind of made me a little bit anxious because I wasn’t making a lot of birdies, but I tried to keep my mind together, and it ended up being great.”

After a timely 80-minute weather delay with storm clouds approaching, Ko closed solidly, playing mistake free on the back nine with two birdies and no bogeys. She finished formidably, like a player relishing the No. 1 ranking .

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.