Lexi, Henderson out to narrow gap on Ko at Skirts

By Randall MellApril 20, 2016, 12:46 am

DALY CITY, Calif. – They’re looking for an edge to narrow the gap on Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko.

Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson are making meaningful moves up the world rankings this year, and yet Ko keeps moving farther away from them and everyone else.

Thompson, 21, won the Honda LPGA Thailand seven weeks ago and is coming off top-10 finishes in her last two starts. She moved to No. 3 in the world rankings after winning in Thailand, surpassing Stacy Lewis as the top American. It’s the highest Thompson has climbed in the rankings.

Henderson, 18, arrives for this week’s Swinging Skirts Classic off her seventh consecutive top-10 finish. She broke through to win the Cambia Portland Classic last August, boosting her rocket ride toward the top 10 in the world. Her ride really started here at Lake Merced Golf Club a year ago, when she arrived at No. 207 in the world. She’s No. 7 now.

Both Thompson and Henderson covet that No. 1 ranking, but Ko shows no signs of letting go with three worldwide victories already this year, including the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration.

This, however, is a week Thompson and Henderson could make statements.

Ko, who will turn 19 on Sunday, has thrived at Lake Merced since the Swinging Skirts moved here three years ago. She’s looking to win this event for the third consecutive time. She defeated Morgan Pressel in a playoff last year and beat Lewis in a weekend duel the year before.

“There’s not a bad part of Lydia’s game,” Thompson said. “The parts I would say are the most amazing are her putting and short game. I’ve never seen somebody get up and down from everywhere.”

Henderson watched Ko overtake her as the leader on the weekend at Lake Merced last year.

“She’s an awesome player,” Henderson said.

Thompson and Henderson both made significant adjustments to their games since last season.

Thompson spent the offseason focused on dialing in her wedge play and improving her short game. She says her biggest strides, however, may be in her mental approach, on better dealing with the game’s emotional challenges. That has helped her work through seeing her putter go hot and cold this season.

At the start of the 2015, Thompson began working with John Denney, a “performance coach” based in South Florida, where Thompson lives.

“I knew my attitude was holding me back sometimes, as far as me getting too down on myself, saying negative things to myself after bad shots, things that would carry over to the next shot,” Thompson told GolfChannel.com. “I knew if I changed that, my game could get a lot better.

“I think you’ve seen a difference in the last year and a half.”

Denney told GolfChannel.com specifics of what he and Thompson talk about are confidential, but he did outline how he works with every athlete on “The Harmony Exercise.” Basically, it’s a specific system that uses breathing and positive thoughts to get an athlete into an optimum state to perform a skill.

“When you come to me, the first thing you learn is what a proper breath and proper thought do to the nervous system and to cardiac rhythm,” Denney said.

Denney hooks up his athletes to an EmWave Pro monitor to show them exactly how breathing, thoughts and even visualization affect their body.

“You can completely change heart rhythms,” Denney said.

Thompson said she also has learned from Denney that an attitude of gratefulness for opportunities helps her.

“Don't get me wrong,” Thompson said. “I still get frustrated on the golf course, with some bad shots, but you just have to learn to let it go and go into the next shot or the next hole and just forget about it.”

Henderson substantially boosted her power game in the offseason, going to a 48-inch shaft, the longest the Rules of Golf allow. She used a 47¼ inch shaft on her driver last year, which was already long, about 3 inches longer than the average driver’s shaft in the women’s game. Henderson is averaging 270 yards per drive this season, about 16 yards longer than she averaged last year.

Henderson said the extra length, combined with firmer conditions at Lake Merced, helped her get to places on the course in practice rounds this week that she couldn’t reach last year.

“I think my driver will give me an advantage this week,” Henderson said.

Henderson will be looking to build on memories of getting into contention here last year.

“I love this golf course,” Henderson said. “I think it's definitely a ball-striker's course. You have to hit it straight and pretty long off the tee, which I think really suits my game well.”

Thompson and Henderson know Lake Merced’s a great venue to measure just how their games compare to Ko’s.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.