Ko weighing pro options

By Randall MellFebruary 15, 2013, 7:26 pm

Lydia Ko infuses a dose of intrigue into the LPGA’s season opener in Australia this weekend.

While the 15-year-old amateur sensation appears to be singularly focused on winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open for her fourth professional title in 54 weeks, there are distractions with larger questions building.

When will she turn pro? Should she turn pro? Would she be eligible for LPGA membership?

Ko was asked about her future after posting a 4-under-par 69 in the second round that positions her to play in the final pairing Saturday at Royal Canberra. She will tee it up there with Mariajo Uribe, the 36-hole leader at 15-under 131, and with former Rolex world No. 1 Jiyai Shin, who is tied with Ko at 132.

Ko was asked Friday if it’s true she was planning to turn professional next year.

“We really haven’t made decisions yet, so, yeah, I can’t really say right now,” Ko said.

Two weeks ago, on the eve of defending her title at the New South Wales Open, Ko addressed the topic.

“I want to turn pro when I think I’m ready and my coaching staff thinks I’m ready,” Ko told the Daily Telegraph of Australia. “There’s no point going there when I don’t think I’m ready, and I’m not that confident. There will be a point when I think I’m ready.”

Ko’s coach, Guy Wilson, told Fairfax Media he thinks the time will be right in another year. Clearly, the Ko team is weighing options.

“Realistically, she’s probably going to look to turn pro next year, only because the opportunities now are pretty obvious,” Wilson said. “Wasting two years at college could be a disadvantage.”

Ko has left more than $470,000 on the table retaining her amateur status in professional events. She left $300,000 on the table winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open last summer. More than that, though, there’s a question of development at the amateur level. How much is there left to learn playing against amateurs when she’s beating the world’s best pros? As mature and poised as Ko is, there are also considerations about how tour life affects social development.

Ko isn’t eligible to collect the winner’s check this weekend if she wins the Women’s Australian Open. She would have had to declare herself a pro before the event began to collect any winnings.

LPGA rules stipulate that a player must be at least 18 to become a tour member. To gain membership before turning 18, a player must petition the LPGA commissioner for a waiver of the tour’s age restriction.

Ko turns 16 on April 24.

Lexi Thompson turned pro at 15 years and four months, Michelle Wie just days before her 16th birthday.

Thompson and Wie both played the LPGA as non-member pros before earning membership status. Thompson became an LPGA member when she was still 16, after petitioning for a waiver following her victory at the Navistar Classic. She made her rookie debut as an LPGA member just days before her 17th birthday last year. Wie was 19 when she earned LPGA membership through Q-School.

What are Ko’s professional options?

• Ko could turn pro anytime she likes. She merely has to declare herself a professional. As soon as she begins accepting payment for her performance, or accepting endorsement offers, she will be a pro.

• As a pro, Ko wouldn’t be automatically exempt into any professional event she wants to play. That’s the challenge in turning pro. There are limitations on access for non-members of the LPGA’s tour.

• If Ko wanted to turn pro and play LPGA events, she would have to do so as a non-member, or apply for a waiver of the LPGA’s rule requiring members to be at least 18. With a waiver, Ko could try to earn LPGA membership through Q-School, or by winning a tour event, or by earning the equivalent of top-40 money on the season-ending money list. Only money Ko won as a pro would count toward that “equivalent” non-member money list.

• As a non-member of the LPGA, Ko would be limited to playing six tour events on sponsor invites. By qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open and Ricoh Women’s British Open, she could play those events without them counting against her six sponsor invites. Ko gets into those two majors by virtue of winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur last year. She also can play her way into LPGA events through Monday qualifiers. If she turns pro, there would be no limit to how many Monday qualifiers she could play as a non-member. As an amateur, if she makes into the field through Monday qualifying, it counts against her limit of six appearances on sponsor invites.

Getty Images

Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.