Ko-Henderson could turn into historic rivalry

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2016, 9:00 pm

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – It’s tempting to expect too much too fast in their budding rivalry, but . . . 

Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson are delivering more than golf fans can fairly expect faster than they can ask for it.

They’re delivering great moments earlier than any players in the history of the game.

Ko became the youngest owner of a major championship title when she won the Evian Championship last fall at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old. Henderson became the second youngest winner when she took the title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last month at 18 years, 9 months and 2 days old. If either wins the U.S. Women’s Open this week to keep the teenager sweep of this year’s majors going, she will be the youngest winner in the history of this championship.

“I always say things are going so much faster than I would ever have dreamed or imagined,” Ko said.

Together, Ko and Henderson delivered one of the greatest finishes in the history of the women’s game when Henderson chased down Ko at the Women’s PGA and then beat her in a playoff.

So now that Ko is No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and Henderson is No. 2, are they ready to begin delivering women’s golf its best rivalry since Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb began battling for the game’s biggest prizes back in the ‘90s?

Are Ko and Henderson good enough together to reprise their Women’s PGA Championship duel at CordeValle Golf Club this week?

Though they are grouped together with Lexi Thompson in the first two rounds this week, neither is biting on projecting anything beyond the first tee shot that awaits them Thursday morning.

“I'm definitely a lot more confident coming into this week at World No. 2 and knowing that I've won a major championship,” Henderson said. “But that doesn't really mean anything when I tee it up on Thursday. I have to have two solid rounds to make the cut, and then to climb up the leaderboard on the weekend.”

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Yes, it’s too early to begin calling Ko and Henderson rivals, but the show they put on at the Women’s PGA makes for a nice foundation to launch one. Of course, these things can’t be forced or manufactured. They evolve with intensifying competition for the game’s biggest prizes.

Ko’s record is already so impressive, with 13 LPGA titles before her 20th birthday, two of them majors. Henderson seems in a hurry to catch up. Her victory at the Cambia Portland Classic last weekend was her third LPGA title. She turns 19 in September.

Henderson was asked if she looks at Ko as a rival.

“Lydia is an inspiration to all of us girls out here, and I think everyone in the world, basically,” Henderson said. “She has done amazing things in her career and she's only a couple months older than I am. We're just trying to kind of chase after her. She showed us a lot of things that are possible.

“She will always have a lot of respect from me, but that doesn't mean I don't want to beat her. That doesn't mean I don't want to go out there and have four solid rounds of golf. And I hope we do have a lot of playoffs together for Major Championship wins, like we did a couple of weeks ago, that means I'm playing really well and that means she's playing really well. So that's what I'm kind of hoping for.”

Henderson is making her fourth start in a U.S. Women’s Open. She tied for 10th two years ago and tied for fifth last year.

Ko is making her fifth start in a U.S. Women’s Open. Her tie for 12th last year was her best finish in the event.

What does Ko think of Henderson?

“Brooke is a really great player,” Ko said. “We all know what an amazing talent she has. But the thing is that she has such great personality and she's super nice. That's why we always love watching somebody like her play well. And our age gap, we were both born in 1997, so it's not like I'm miles older than she is.

“She’s an aggressive player, but at the same time she's smart. I think she's one of the most confident putters out there, too.”

Henderson, who jumped to No. 2 in the world with her victory at Sahalee, is still almost six whopping points behind Ko in the world ranking average. She won’t be overtaking Ko for No. 1 even with a victory this week. Nobody’s going to be overtaking Ko anytime soon, but Ko knows she’s the target.

“I don't necessarily think about it when I'm out there practicing, thinking, `Hey, I need to hit one more ball to beat Brooke,’” Ko said. “At the end of the day, all I can do is try my best, work on my own golf. And I think that's all you can do.”

If golf’s fortunate, Ko and Henderson will be asked a lot about each other in the coming years.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.