Ko leaves no doubt with Evian win

By Randall MellSeptember 13, 2015, 7:42 pm

Lydia Ko is golf’s ultimate prodigy.

If there were a Grand Slam of record-setting youthful triumphs, Ko would have completed it Sunday by winning the Evian Championship in France.

And she would have done so with an exclamation point.

That’s what shooting a final-round 63 to become the youngest woman to win a major championship felt like.

Yes, Evian Golf Resort might not be St. Andrews or Oakmont, but this was her masterpiece, regardless of the canvas. Ko’s bogey-free 63 was ridiculously good under final-round pressure. She was seven shots better than anyone else in contention, seven shots better than anyone else among the final 18 players off the first tee on Sunday.

Though Ko started two shots behind at day’s start, she won by six. She hit every green in regulation but one. 

“It’s kind of hard to beat somebody who shoots 63,” said Lexi Thompson, who shot 70 and still got lapped finishing second. “She played amazing. She deserves it. She ball-struck the heck out of this golf course and putted really well. You can't get much better than that.” 

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Ko sets the new mark as youngest woman to win a major at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old.  Really, though, Ko’s feat feels even more historic than that. Yeah, sure, Young Tom Morris was 17 when he won the Open Championship in 1868, but he was among just a dozen players in the field.

Even Ko was dazzled by her feat. 

“It’s amazing, I guess, a little bit, that I can leave my name in the history books,” Ko said.

Here’s a slam that’s grand: At 14, Ko won the NSW Open on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, becoming the youngest player at the time to win a professional event. At 15, she won the Canadian Women’s Open, becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA event. At 17, she ascended to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, becoming the youngest man or woman to rank No. 1 in professional golf.

And now there’s this, breaking through to win the Evian Championship, her best triumph and toughest test.

Ko delivered under pressure Sunday, under constant reminders that if she was going to surpass Morgan Pressel as the youngest winner of major, this was her last chance. Pressel was 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old when she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2007. Ko will be a full month older than that when women’s golf’s next major arrives at Mission Hills next spring.

Ko got a full year of this hype from us folks in the media, a countdown of her last five chances to surpass Pressel. The pressure seemed to be getting to Ko, too, right from the start. She tied for 51st in the spring at the ANA Inspiration, her worst finish in a major until she missed the cut in her very next major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. That was the first cut she missed as an amateur or pro playing the LPGA. She got some major momentum going at the U.S. Women’s Open, tying for 12th, and then made a good run at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, tying for third.

By the time Ko arrived at Evian, she didn’t have to be asked about the clock ticking on her major quest.

She knew.

Walking on to the 18th green Sunday, Ko knew it was finally over. Her caddie, Jason Hamilton, told her to enjoy the moment. Ko said she felt her eyes well up with tears thinking about what the victory meant.

“I didn't totally cry-cry,” Ko said. “But I kind of got a little overwhelmed, and I could kind of felt tears coming when Jason said, `Enjoy the moment.’

“I kind of felt back over the whole week and all the questions I've been asked. But in a way, I was relieved.”

It was Ko’s fourth victory this year, the 13th professional title worldwide in her career.

Her coaches should get their due, too. The team of David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan got some grief taking over Ko’s game at the end of 2013 when they started changing her swing. There was criticism changing her fade to a draw, remaking her swing to give her more distance, but look what they’ve done together. Four wins this year alone, rising to No. 1 back in January, ranking No. 2 on the cusp of No. 1 again now, and winning this major.

“Pretty amazing,” Ko said.

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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.'"

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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.