For Ko, winning breeds confidence

By Randall MellApril 4, 2016, 4:09 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Uh-oh, Lydia Ko’s figuring out how these major championship puzzles go together now, too.

Ko didn’t walk across Poppie’s Pond after winning the ANA Inspiration on Sunday at Mission Hills, but that’s probably just so we wouldn't think she was showing off.

She’s still only 18, but Ko’s already leaving us wondering if there’s anything she won’t be able to do in the women’s game before she’s finished.

With her clutch wedge to a foot for a closing birdie that proved to be the decisive stroke, Ko claimed her second consecutive major championship. Six months after winning the Evian Championship and becoming the youngest major championship winner in the history of women’s golf, she’s now the youngest to win two of them.

At 18 years, 11 months and 10 days old, Ko is an old soul in golf. She has already won 17 professional events around the world, 12 of them LPGA titles. That’s three worldwide this year, with back-to-back titles now on the LPGA tour.

“It was always my dream just to play the LPGA, just being here, being in this position,” Ko said. “For these amazing things to be happening, it's unbelievable, but I think it also motivates me to work harder and try and put myself in good position, and in contention whenever I can.”

Jason Hamilton has toted Ko’s bag as caddie for a year and a half now. Nobody has had a better seat to witness just how historically advanced her young game has been in that time.

ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos

“She has an old head on those young shoulders,” Hamilton said. “We can’t help saying the same things, but I still struggle to get my head around her maturity.

“For someone her age to be so focused, it’s impressive. I never have to push her. She pushes herself so much, and I’m just glad she’s able to see the fruits of her labor.”

Ko didn’t make a bogey over the entire weekend, playing in contention through Saturday and Sunday with the pressure the highest. She didn’t make a bogey over the final 41 holes.

Falling behind on the back nine Sunday, Ko didn’t blink.

“I think Lydia’s patience is always the amazing thing to me,” said Sura, Lydia’s manager and older sister by nine years. “She knows how to wait for things. I don’t know how she does it, but she can wait for the magic out on the course.”

Ko patiently bided her time to make magic at the 18th.

With Ariya Jutanugarn pulling away behind her, Ko knew there was work to do late to give herself a chance. She checked a leaderboard stepping up to a nervy 8-foot putt for par at the 17th. She knew she needed to make that putt just to stay two shots behind Jutanugarn going to the final hole.

“I said, `Hey, I need to make this putt and make a birdie, or eagle, or something fantastic down the last,” Ko said.

Ko made a fantastic birdie after patiently laying up at the 18th. Yes, she flirted with the idea of trying to reach the 18th in two. She had only 202 yards to reach the front of the green after her tee shot, but her ball was sitting on a downhill lie. Still, she was thinking 3-wood, but she was thinking that without knowing Jutanugarn had made another bogey behind her.

But Hamilton knew.

“With a downhill lie like that, I knew we could lose the tournament with one shot,” Hamilton said. “I knew we were one behind and we could still win it with a birdie.”

Hamilton talked Ko out of going for the green.

After laying up to 84 yards, Ko hit the most beautiful sand wedge to a foot. She sent a jolt through the bleachers. It was all but over a few minutes later when Jutanugarn snap hooked her tee shot into the water at the 18th.

“Just after I hit my shot, I looked at the leaderboard, and I saw that we were all tied at 11 under,” Ko said. “Just so many thoughts, but, obviously, hitting it to a foot on the last hole, that makes it a lot easier than having a 3- or 4-footer. I think I'm lucky that Jason kind of talked me [into] not going for the green in two, and that definitely helped having a good yardage with a wedge.”

Hamilton called it the perfect yardage.

Ko was asked how she would rank the shot among the most clutch she has ever hit.

“I mean, it would be up there,” Ko said. “Every shot is special in its own way, like every win is special, because every tournament is so different. But, just playing the 72nd hole, birdieing the last hole, that's always a good feeling. Obviously, for that shot to mean so much that I would win the event, that makes it extra special.”

Ko’s putter was extra special all day.

More erratic than she would have liked with her ball striking, Ko kept herself alive with clutch putting. She holed a 22-foot birdie at the fifth and a 40-foot birdie at the eighth, but her clutch par saves made the difference on the back nine.

Ko’s save at the 11th was classic. She pushed her drive right into the trees, and then she punched out too hard across the fairway and back into deep rough. She chopped to 10 feet, though, and she holed her putt for par. She made a 15-footer for par at the 13th and nervy saves at the 16th and 17th holes.

Ko hit only 12 greens in regulation in the final round, the fewest she hit all week, but she got up and down for par every time.

In three previous tries at the ANA Inspiration, Ko never really looked comfortable. Her best finish was T-25, but then we forget she was 15, 16 and 17 when she played those first three times here. She’s showing now that she can adapt to any venue, major or minor.

“I think, obviously, winning this event is great, but jumping into the Poppie’s Pond, that kind of tradition will definitely be one of the highlights of my career,” Ko said. “I've never really played well at this course before, so just to know that, hey, I can still play well at a course that I haven't really played well before I think gives me the confidence.”


Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.