Ko's game taking shape, along with adjusted ball flight

By Randall MellJuly 8, 2015, 11:19 pm

LANCASTER, Pa. – Lydia Ko’s ball flight looks good this week.

David Leadbetter likes seeing that as her swing coach, but he also looks for other telltale signs she’s ready for the game’s biggest events.

“She’s smiling and laughing,” Leadbetter said with Ko preparing for Thursday’s start of the U.S. Women’s Open. “She’s feeling rested, and she’s feeling good about her game. When she’s that way, she normally plays well.”

With one of the most well-rounded games in women’s golf, Ko enters this week among the favorites to win. SkyBet has Inbee Park as the favorite at 13/2 with Ko and Stacy Lewis each at 11/1.

Though Ko just turned 18 in April, there’s rich anticipation every time she tees it up in a major championship. There’s also heightened pressure to make that first victory in a major historic. She’s already the youngest player to win an LPGA event. She has three chances left this summer to become the youngest winner of a major, to eclipse the mark Morgan Pressel set when she won the Kraft Nabisco at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days old.

Though it seems excessive loading that expectation on Ko, Leadbetter understands the fuss. She’s the most accomplished teen phenom ever to play the game.

“What’s the next step for Lydia?” Leadbetter said. “It’s to win majors. It’s brought up at every press conference she has. She knows it. I think she’s gotten a little too hyped up for the last two majors, and she’s trying to be more low key this week. A lot’s expected of her. I think she’s saying, `I’m just going to make this week like it’s a regular tournament,’ instead of getting bent out of shape about it.”

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Ko is off to another big year with three worldwide victories. She’s having a year just about any woman but Inbee Park would trade for, but Ko hasn’t been at her best in this year’s majors. She tied for 51st at the ANA Inspiration and missed the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Those are her worst performances this season. She saw her record-tying streak of 29 consecutive rounds under par end at ANA, and she missed her first cut ever in an LPGA event at the Women’s PGA last month.

“It’s going to happen for Lydia,” Leadbetter said. “For me, it’s not a case of if. It’s a case of when.

“She’s just too good. She has a perfect game for the majors, and there’s no reason it can’t happen this week.”

Leadbetter deals with pressure, too. And he hears criticism with Ko missing the cut at the Women’s PGA. There was some over-the-top worry in social media circles when Ko went four consecutive events without a top-15 finish before tying for sixth in her last start at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Ko closed out Walmart with a 63.

“I didn't play well the last couple of weeks [before that], but it was great to finish with a low score on Sunday in Arkansas,” Ko said. “That gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week. And I know that I'm hitting the ball good, that I can be confident and just trust my game.”

Ko’s record since taking up with Leadbetter and his assistant, Sean Hogan, has been terrific. Since making the move 18 months ago, she has won six times. She also moved to Rolex world No. 1 under their watchful eyes, reigning there for 19 weeks. She’s No. 2 today.

Predictably, Ko’s sluggish month launched questions about whether Leadbetter should have changed her favored ball flight from a fade to a draw.

“Look, you’re always going to get that,” Leadbetter said. “She hasn’t played to her normal standard for a month, and all of a sudden you start hearing she’s in a slump and her swing isn’t working. They cut Phil Mickelson more slack than they allow her.

“The changes have actually been subtle, and she’s hitting the ball probably 15-20 yards farther than she was a year ago. That’s a big plus in today’s game. She’s not short now. She’s sort of medium long now where before she was medium at best. The changes we made were so she could draw the ball. Look, she’s not a big girl, so left to right isn’t going to maximize her distance.”

Ko came to Leadbetter and Hogan with a shut face at the top of her swing. They changed her to a more neutral grip to get her square at the top. It’s allowed her to hit the consistent draw she wanted and to gain the extra distance she wanted, but her miss has become a hard, pulling draw to the left.

“With the right to left, there’s a tendency, at times, where the club can drop beneath the plane and she can get too much of a draw shape, but overall I would say the benefits far outweigh the negatives,” Leadbetter said. “She’s happy with the draw, and the swing looks great.”

Ko leads the LPGA in hitting greens in regulation this season.

“There are always naysayers,” Leadbetter said. “That’s the way it is in the world. So, hey, you know what? I don’t really care what other people think. I care what she thinks and about the results. And the results have been pretty darn good since we started working together.”

Ko takes it all in with an equanimity belying her youth.

“Obviously, there are going to be days where I'm going to play good golf, but then at the end of the day there are going to be some where I don't get what I want,” Ko said. “You just have to kind of go with it. Golf is a game where we're going to play for many, many years. So there is going to be the good, but there are going to be some days where it won't be the way you want it to be.”

Ko could make this Sunday more than a good day. She could make a historic day.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.