Many changes for Ko before debut as LPGA member

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2014, 10:37 pm

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Lydia Ko will start the new season with a new coach, a new caddie and a new set of golf clubs.

She’s also getting closer to setting up an American base in Orlando, Fla., to play the tour’s domestic events.

With an offseason filled with more drama than she expected, Ko knows what consternation all of this will cause.

Is she making too many changes?

Will she have the same chemistry going with so many new pieces around her game?

Will she need time to acclimate to her new ensemble before she wins again?

Ko understands those are the questions that will be asked when she tees it up at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic Thursday in her first event as a rookie member of the LPGA. She is only 16, but she’s quickly learning that every little change in her game comes with intensifying scrutiny. With Ko at No. 4 in the Rolex world rankings, the level of interest in her is swelling, especially back in New Zealand, where she’s something of a national treasure having already won five pro events.

“A lot of people are saying, `You’re making big changes. After turning pro, you’re doing this, this and this different,’” Ko said Wednesday after her pro-am round in the Bahamas. “Yes, but I love a challenge.”

When Ko confirmed she was switching coaches last month, it created a giant stir back in New Zealand among Kiwis who didn’t like the fact that she was leaving Guy Wilson, the New Zealand Institute of Golf coach who taught her to play. Steve Williams, the Kiwi caddie who knows something about emotional splits and is a friend to Wilson, said he was “shocked” and could not “fathom” why she would leave him.

The backlash back home surprised Ko, and those in the know will tell you it hurt her.

“I was so surprised,” Ko said. “I didn’t know it would be a story, but it was big news in New Zealand.”

Ko is being coached now by David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan, who is on Leadbetter’s staff. She said she believes it’s best for her game to have a coach near where she will make her American base. She doesn’t like being coached at an event and prefers to do her work between events.

The backlash was instructive, alerting her to the realities of her growing fame.

“A lot of people have advised me, telling me this is what’s going to happen, that it’s not always going to be good, there will be some negative as well,” Ko said. “I’ve talked to players, and they’ve supported me. I had to do what’s best for my situation.”

Ko continues to impress LPGA officials and fellow players with her poise. The fact is, the Ko family has never rushed a decision relating to her career. The Kos took their time carefully considering Lydia’s transition to the professional game. While decisions about endorsements (ANZ), equipment contracts (Callaway) and coaching seemed to come in rapid-fire releases, they were long in the making.

And make no mistake, Lydia has a strong voice in all of these decisions.

Count Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis among those believing Ko knows exactly what she’s doing.

“Really, I think the sky’s the limit for her,” Lewis said. “There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, playing week in and week out on our tour, but once she figures that out, I think she’ll probably be the No. 1 player sometime in the future.

“She has a great demeanor about her. You would never know she’s as successful as she is at a young age. She just seems to handle it all really well. It’s refreshing. She’s very humble.”

Lewis and Ko will be paired together in the first two rounds of the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. Lewis played alongside Ko in the final round of the 2012 CN Canadian Women’s Open. Though Lewis was on her way to winning Rolex Player of the Year that season, Ko wasn’t fazed, holding off Lewis to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event at 15.

“There’s nothing really with her game that blows you away,” Lewis said. “You look at Inbee [Park] with her putting, or Lexi [Thompson] with her distance, they blow you away a little bit. Lydia just seems to get the ball in the hole quicker than anybody else. That’s the best thing I can say about her. She’ll just be going along, going along, and before you know it, she’s 5 or 6 under.”

Ko’s new caddie is Scott Lubin, who once caddied for Jack Nicklaus.

“Everything’s different,” Ko said.

Ko would like nothing better than to show with a continued run of success that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry