Ko comes up short in Oz, yet impresses us with maturity

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2016, 3:08 pm

Lydia Ko showed us yet again Sunday in Australia what makes her so special.

Yeah, yeah, I know, she didn’t win the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Though Ko closed strong with a 5-under-par 67, she couldn’t catch Japan’s Haru Nomura, who won her first LPGA title in her 72nd tour start. Ko’s 67 was so good on the tough Grange Golf Club track that only one other player posted a better score in the final round. That was Nomura with a 65.

There was no shame in the Rolex world No. 1 falling short. There was no disconcerting stumble like there was in her LPGA season opener in Ocala, Fla., where Ko had a share of the 54-hole lead and collapsed in the middle of her round.

Ko closed really well in South Australia. Playing in front of Nomura, she applied unrelenting pressure, making Nomura listen to one roar after another. Nomura just kept answering. She just closed better.

Still, Ko wowed us in the end.

Ko wowed us with the way she conducted herself in the aftermath of that loss.

After throwing nearly everything she had at Nomura, Ko didn’t stomp away from the scoring area in frustration. She didn’t pause to wipe away a tear or indulge herself with a good pout or sulk before marching home with her team.

No, Ko hustled back out to the 18th green to help Nomura celebrate.

If you were watching Nomura putt out at the 18th, you saw a gang of players racing onto the green to douse Nomura with soda, champagne, water or whatever they all had in the traditional victory shower players get on tour. You saw Ko out there among them, chasing Nomura around with two bottles of water in giddy, childlike delight.

“My goal was to shoot 67 today, and I shot 67,” Ko said. “I fell a couple of shots behind, and, you know, I felt like I played really solidly. Obviously, it’s not the best finish, you know, finishing with a bogey, but other than that, I played really well. But Haru played even better. The roars I could hear, she seemed like she was holing a lot of putts. When another player does that, it’s really out of my hands.”

Remember back to the Coates Golf Championship two weeks ago? When Ko made three consecutive bogeys and then a double bogey in the middle of the final round to fall behind Ha Na Jang? Do you remember what Jang said about the way Ko handled that disappointment as her playing partner? Jang said Ko began cheering her on to her first LPGA title.

“Lydia say, `You can do it,’” Jang’s said.

“They were encouraging each other,” Jang’s coach, Kevin Kim, said.

After winning last week’s New Zealand Women’s Open, Ko donated all her winnings to New Zealand in gratitude for the support she received growing up there.

Ko may be the Rolex world No. 1, besieged with requests for her time, but she takes the time to hand write thank-you notes to her pro-am playing partners. At the start of last season, Ko left giant Kiwi chocolate bars in the lockers of all her peers as thanks for treating her so well during her rookie season. She handwrote notes to go with each chocolate bar.

Though just 18, Ko has the rare ability to step back and see the bigger picture more quickly than most players. She regularly talks about a responsibility she feels toward the game that goes beyond giving her best effort inside the ropes.

“One of my favorite things is when a junior comes up to me at an event, or on social media, and says, 'You're my role model,’” Ko said at the end of last year. “That's one of the biggest things that inspires me and makes me feel like I have to be better for them. If I can play a part in maybe making the tour a little bit better, it's a job well done.”

We’ve heard Ko say that more than once, and more importantly, we’ve seen that she means it.

At the Coates Golf Championship, I asked Stacy Lewis if it was frustrating chasing a world No. 1 who is so likeable and so humble. Lewis conceded it was, and that she wished Ko would “own up to how good” she really is. Frankly, Lewis’ answer got totally misconstrued. If you were standing there listening to Lewis’ entire answer, you sensed Lewis marveling over how Ko has to believe supremely in herself and yet betrays none of it any arrogant way.

Like Lewis, we’re all marveling over that.

And for folks who like to say “You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser,” Ko blows up that thinking, just like Jack Nicklaus blew it up.

Why is it important for athletes to talk to the media after difficult losses? Athletes shouldn’t be forced to speak with the threat of fines. If they don’t want to speak, that’s fine, but the ones who do speak show us that they are seeing the bigger picture of what’s important to their sport, what serves the greater good of a game that has given them so many opportunities. They’re showing us they understand the game is not all about them, even when they’re hurting. By explaining what went wrong with their effort, or what they saw going right with their opponent, by filling in pieces of the bigger story of a hard-fought game, they’re adding to the value of the competition. They’re adding to the value of what devoted fans experience when they invest their time following a sport. They’re going above and beyond in living up to any pledges they’ve ever made about giving back to the game.

Yes, sometimes players need extra time gathering themselves after a loss before speaking. That’s understandable. But sometimes a player sees the need to rush out of scoring and honor an opponent with a good victory celebration soaking.

In victory or defeat, Ko routinely honors the game she loves with a level of maturity that ought to make us all marvel.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.