Ko's sweeping changes under the spotlight at ANA

By Randall MellMarch 29, 2017, 1:20 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The sweeping changes came with risk, of course.

Lydia Ko returns to the ANA Inspiration this week fresh off only her second missed cut in 95 LPGA starts, which only ratchets up questions about why the Rolex world No. 1 decided to make so many changes at the same time while still reigning atop the game.

Yes, it’s too early to know how changing her caddie, coach and equipment at the end of last year will ultimately affect her, but all those moves are thrust in the spotlight this week, with even more attention on her than usual. She’s the defending champion whose No. 1 world ranking hangs in the balance after eight winless months.

If No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn wins this week, Ko’s run at No. 1 will end after 75 consecutive weeks.

For Ko, this is all static noise she is so skilled at tuning out. It’s partly why she has reigned at No. 1 for more consecutive weeks than anyone but Lorena Ochoa (158) and Yani Tseng (109).

“I actually can’t remember the last time I checked the Rolex rankings,” Ko said. “When I get the odd social media pop-up of, 'Hey, it’s closing down to this much,’ That’s when I know. But other than that, I don’t know.”

For other golf observers, Ko’s sweeping changes create curiosity about gifted players, the pressure to keep improving, and the delicate nature of confidence.

“I hate it when young players change their golf swing, period,” Golf Channel analyst Jerry Foltz said. “I hate it when they change instructors, because, honestly, I think you lose what got you there. A lot of people then spend the rest of their careers trying to get back to what got them there. . . . Now, that being said, those players at the highest level have proven that they can do it and it does take time.”

Hall of Famer and Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin believes what Ko is going through in her still short career is a product of the changing times and the mindset that technology like high-tech video and TrackMan create.

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“There is this great temptation today that I don't believe was there 30 and 40 years ago to try to create something better and better, and more and more perfect, and more and more infallible,” Rankin said. “I think that temptation for some players is too great. It works for some of the very few, but sometimes even when it works, there is something to be lost by not playing with what brung you.”

Golf Channel’s Karen Stupples believes the pressure so many other young players like Jutanugarn are applying is another reason Ko made so many changes.

“They want to be No. 1, and they’re improving and getting better all the time,” Stupples said. “It’s hard as a player to sit there and watch the new players coming up, chasing you down, without thinking, 'I need to do something to my own game. I need to get better. I need to improve.’”

Ko left her youth coach back in New Zealand, Guy Wilson, to hire David Leadbetter in November of 2013. She eventually adopted a version of Leadbetter’s A-Swing, but after a lot of success in their first two-and-a-half years together, she began struggling in the second half of last year.

At the start of this year, Ko left Leadbetter for Gary Gilchrist. He has helped her move back to a one-plane swing, more like the swing of her youth.

Ko had three top 10s before missing the cut at the Kia Classic last week. “I think the transition has actually been pretty easy, very smooth,” she said.

Ko, who turns 20 on April 24, likes the way her ball striking is coming around under Gilchrist. She really wanted to improve her driving, to hit more fairways, and she’s doing that. She’s 10th on tour in driving accuracy. She’s 27th in greens in regulation.

Of all the changes Ko has made, the most subtle and surprising are to her putting. Before this year, she used two different grips to putt. She went left-hand low on shorter putts and conventional on longer putts. She abandoned left-hand low this year to go completely conventional. She also has made a subtle change to her stroke. Where she used to use a push method, she’s now focused more on opening, squaring, and closing the blade.

That’s taking Ko some time to master. She was No. 1 in putting on tour last year, No. 2 the year before. She’s No. 41 so far this year, thanks to some struggles on poa annua grass at last week’s Kia Classic, which caused trouble for a lot of players.

“She’s trying to feel comfortable over it and keep the face pretty square through the path,” Gilchrist said. “That’s all.’

Ko is also back to a Odyssey two-ball putter.

Gilchrist says Ko’s game is progressing just fine through this transition.

“I don’t have any concerns,” Gilchrist said of Ko’s overall game. “She has one of the greatest minds and greatest attitudes in the game. She’s a breath of fresh air.”

Ko arrives to defend her title remembering the strategy that worked so well for her last year.

“The biggest thing I remember about the whole day last year [in the final round] was that I really wasn’t focusing on what anybody else was doing,” Ko said. “I was just trying to play the best I can.”

It’s a strategy that she applies to her overall game and all the sweeping changes she’s working through.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm