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.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.