Ko seeking first win in nearly a year

By Randall MellMay 17, 2017, 8:13 pm

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Lydia Ko has reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 101 weeks, the last 82 in a row.

Ariya Jutanugarn is coming off a five-victory season as the LPGA Player of the Year.

So Yeon Ryu won the first major championship of the year and leads the LPGA in money winnings, scoring, greens in regulation and Rolex Player of the Year points.

Nobody, though, has taken charge of the year. In fact, Ko and Jutanugarn are looking for their first victories of 2017.

That is the year’s early storyline going into this week’s Kingsmill Championship.

Through 10 LPGA events, there have been 10 different winners.

While that doesn’t seem so unusual, it is.

That’s the longest stretch the LPGA has gone opening a season without a multiple winner in 26 years, since 1991, when 15 different winners won the first 15 events of the year.

“It just shows that week in and week out, you really never know who is going to win,” Ko said.

Ko has won at least three times in each of her first three full seasons on tour.

“The amount of talent on tour is huge,” Ko said. “You can see that through, obviously, all our winners this year, and when you see, at the end the year, the first-time winners, eight, nine new winners, you go, `Wow, it's not just about three players. It’s not just about the big three. It's about the whole tour.’

“I think that's great for the game. It's a lot of players from different countries, from the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. It gets a lot of people into the game.”

Cristie Kerr had a chance to become the first multiple winner of the year at the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout three weeks ago, but lost a sudden-death playoff there to Haru Nomura on the sixth extra hole.

“When I first came out, there might have been 20 or 30 girls that could win,” Kerr said. “Now, everybody can win on a given week.”

Ko, who turned 20 last month, has already won 14 LPGA titles in her career, but she’s seeking her first victory in 10 months, since she won the Marathon Classic last July.

In a year of transition, Ko seeks her first victory with her new coach (Gary Gilchrist), her new equipment (PXG) and her newest caddie (Peter Godfrey). She says she feels good about where they’re all helping her go.

“The weeks that I've had top 10s, I've hit the ball really well but I was struggling on the greens,” Ko said. “But then in Hawaii, I was able to get a few putts to go in on the weekend. I think that was a huge difference for me getting the best results I had since my last win at the Marathon Classic.”

Ko tied for second at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii last month, her best finish in 2017.

“Hopefully, I will be able to get a few more things to click,” Ko said. “At the end of the day, I don't feel like it's way off. It's just a few putts, that are sliding by, for them to drop, and a few more fairways hit. It's very small, but at the end of week they end up being a big difference, between a top-10 finish or being in contention, or being outside of the top 10.”

Jutanugarn also is seeking her first victory of the year, her first in almost nine months.

Ryu won the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major. It catapulted her into the mix for the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, which finally feels within reach for anyone outside Ko, who has held the top spot for the last 18 months.

Just .249 points separate the top three in the world rankings.

Any of the three could walk away with the No. 1 ranking come Sunday evening.

“I don't really look at the rankings myself,” Ko said. “I don't go in my spare time and look, `Hey, what position am I in?’ I kind of know these things through media and when people tell me, `Hey it's getting close. It could change this week.’

“It's been a huge honor to be in this position. It's always been a dream of mine to be the No. 1-ranked player. For it to have happened so early, it's something I'm very fortunate about.”

Ko knows what the increasing depth of talent means.

“I know I need to work hard, and I need that performance, to try and maintain it,” Ko said. “I’ve just got to focus on the round, the shot in front of me, and not get too carried away about the results and the rankings. Just got to focus on me. I think that's the important thing going forward.”

Ko would love to make it 11 different winners in 11 events come Sunday evening in Kingsmill.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told GolfChannel.com. “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”