Ryu making her own legend

By Randall MellMay 18, 2017, 11:30 pm

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – So Yeon Ryu can’t seem to escape Lexi Thompson’s shadow.

Thompson was all the buzz in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Kingsmill Championship, skydiving from 10,000 feet into the first fairway before her tee time. Strapped to a Navy SEAL in a tandem jump, Thompson dramatically promoted her new charity benefitting the families of wounded and fallen special ops forces.

Come Thursday morning, Thompson was almost immediately the story here again, soaring to the top of the leaderboard with a 6-under-par 65.

Ryu played right in front of Thompson, where she couldn’t help hearing the celebrations that Thompson was setting off with five consecutive birdies coming home.

Ryu shot 70.

Behind the bleachers at round’s end, as Ryu answered a reporter’s questions, Thompson passed a walkway into scoring, drawing the clamor of adoring fans who wanted the American star’s autograph.

It seems like it’s been like this for Ryu since she beat Thompson six weeks ago in that controversial ending to the ANA Inspiration.

Ryu won her second major championship that day, but she did so in an awkward ending with so much of the focus on Thompson and the four-shot penalty Thompson was assessed on the back nine of that final round.

In the rules debate that ensued, Ryu never got the credit or acclaim a major champion usually enjoys.

How has the fallout affected Ryu?

“She’s been accepting,” said Cameron McCormick, her swing coach. “So Yeon is the sweetest person in the world.”

McCormick knew that before he watched Ryu approach Thompson on the driving range at the Texas Shootout three weeks ago, the first event Ryu and Thompson played together since the ANA. McCormick watched Ryu hug Thompson before heading off to warm up for the first round.

“Lexi wrote something very nice about me in her Instagram right after the ANA,” Ryu said, explaining the hug. “She congratulated me and said she didn’t want anything that happened to take away from my victory. I told her that probably wasn’t easy to write after a loss, and I told her I really appreciated that. I also told her I thought she handled herself very well afterward.”

Ryu says she understood the uproar that followed the ANA, but she’s human, and it was difficult knowing her story wasn’t being told, that the risky overhaul she made to her game wasn’t going to be detailed or fully appreciated.

“It was such an uncommon situation, so I understood, but I’m not going to lie,” Ryu said. “There wasn’t a lot of joy, seeing a different story being told. But, you know, I thought about Lexi, about the heartbreaking situation she was in, and I thought about things differently.

“I decided, let’s win another major, and I’ll make my story later.”

Tom Watson, Ryu’s caddie, said the uproar that followed the ANA, the debate over the two-shot penalty Thompson got for incorrectly making her ball in the third round and the additional two-shot penalty she got for signing an incorrect scorecard, left Ryu briefly wondering if Ryu really deserved to win.

“The first few days after, I think it was hard for her,” Watson said. “She struggled thinking maybe she didn’t really win, but Lexi lost. We talked about that, and she came to understand that she played some great golf over the last five holes that day, when anything could have happened.

“We talked about the shots she hit under pressure, the putts she holed under pressure, and she started believing she deserved to win.”

Ryu’s victory didn’t come as a surprise to the people closest to her. Before the 2016 season, Ryu left her long-time coach Ian Triggs to go to work with McCormick, who also works with Jordan Spieth.

Ryu didn’t tweak her swing under McCormick.

“She made massive changes,” Watson said.

Ryu assigned Watson the task of finding a new coach after the 2015 season, and he led her to McCormick.

McCormick immediately reshaped Ryu’s takeaway, making her swing flatter, less upright.

“Before, she had an almost straight-out wrist cock, early in the takeaway, with the face of the club going open right away, with the toe in the air when her hands were hip high,” Watson said. “Now, the club face is more neutral.”

Watson said the face stays more on plane with Ryu’s spine tilt throughout the swing.

“She feels like she’s very, very closed, going back with her arms and shoulders,” Watson said.

Ryu says she likes the new ball flight McCormick created.

“Before, my ball flight was way too high,” Ryu said.

Ryu said McCormick created a foundation that has added to the repertoire of shots she can hit, that he has made imagination a new weapon in her arsenal of shots.

“When I see Cameron, he never asks me to hit a straight shot,” Ryu said. “He asks me to hit a lot of different shots, to hit a push draw, a draw, a fade, to hit it high, to hit it low. He asks me to hit so many different kinds of shots. He’s given me more options to hit shots.

“It’s a totally different swing.”

Ryu was one of the best ball strikers in the game when she went to McCormick, but Watson believed she was too one-dimensional with her ball flight.

“So Yeon is a lot more creative now, and that’s probably the biggest change in her game,” Watson said.

The risks Ryu took to make these changes is the story that wasn’t told when she won the year’s first major.

Back when she first started working with McCormick, Ryu struggled getting comfortable.

“She wasn’t certain it was the right thing to do,” Watson said.

Ryu was at a crossroads, but she committed so thoroughly to the swing changes that she moved to Dallas to be near McCormick, who is based there.

Through seven starts this year, Ryu has a victory and two second-place finishes. She hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any of those starts.

Ryu leads the tour in scoring (68.57), money winnings ($885,456) and greens in regulation (81 percent).

Ryu is also one of the best total drivers in the women’s game, ranking 24th in driving distance (261 yards per drive) and 36th in driving accuracy. She’s 16 yards longer per drive than she was two-and-a-half years ago.

“She seems even longer than that,” Watson said.

Ryu says there’s also more creativity in her short game. Ian Baker Finch teams with McCormick on Ryu’s putting.

Mostly, Ryu says she has more belief in her game.

The ANA victory was Ryu’s fourth career LPGA title, her first in two-and-a-half years. She won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011, before she was an LPGA member, and there was pressure in her South Korean homeland to validate it with another major.

“Sometimes, when you can’t win, you feel like you’re a failure,” Ryu said. “So, I really had to do some talking to myself, to tell myself, `You’re not a failure, you’re just in this process of going from good to great.’”

Ryu opened this year feeling good about her game, and even better about it when she finished second in her season debut at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I definitely felt like a win was coming, that it was just a matter of time, but I didn’t want to push myself too much,” Ryu said.

McCormick’s work with Ryu has been as much about building confidence as it has been about building a swing.

“Results will almost always follow belief,” McCormick said. “What you believe to be true will almost always become true if it isn’t already true.”

So what Ryu believes about winning the ANA matters.

“It validated the first major,” McCormick said. “It validates all the hard work a player puts in, all the time you spend in the mind, so to speak, figuring out the infinitesimal gains in precision that are necessary to compete on the world stage.”

Ryu isn’t looking to validate yet another major now, but she would like to win a third so she can better share the story behind what it takes to win one.


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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.