Timing on and off the course benefits Ko

By Randall MellOctober 28, 2013, 3:43 pm

Everything seems to be unfolding so quickly now.

Three weeks ago, Lydia Ko, 16, announced she was filing for a waiver of the LPGA’s rule requiring that members be at least 18 years old and that she would play as a professional in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders.

Last week, she took to Twitter and YouTube to announce she was officially shedding her amateur status.

On Monday, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan announced he was granting Ko a waiver, effective at the start of 2014.

Ko’s professional career is officially off and running, but make no mistake, as astonishingly swift as this teen phenom from New Zealand’s rise has been, the family isn’t rushing into anything.

Every step of this process appears to be carefully and methodically thought out by the Ko family and her New Zealand Golf team advisers. Tina Hyon, Ko’s mother, told GolfChannel.com in an email exchange Monday morning that Lydia doesn’t have an agent or manager yet. She doesn’t have any endorsement deals as of yet, either. And though they’re considering keeping on Micky Millburn as a full-time caddie, that isn’t a certainty as of yet, either.

“We are looking forward to having Lydia as a full-time member for the 2014 season,” Whan said in a statement. “It is not often that the LPGA welcomes a rookie who is already a back-to-back LPGA tour champion.”

As far as going to college, Ko hasn’t given up on that possibility. Her mother informed GolfChannel.com Monday that Lydia is looking at applying to universities. Ko might still try what Michelle Wie and So Yeon Ryu did. She might play the LPGA while pursuing a college degree. Ko, though, has one more year of her secondary education to complete before college.

Ko has found a nice pace in her meteoric rise. She could have turned pro after she won the CN Canadian Women’s Open when she was 15. She could have filed a petition for a waiver of the LPGA’s age restriction after winning that first time in Canada, and she could have petitioned again this summer after winning once more in Canada, but she waited. She didn’t just give the LPGA a good look at her skill set in 11 tour starts this year. She gave the tour a thorough look at her maturity level.

It’s remarkable, but at 16, Ko has long shown patience getting to this next step. She’s No. 4 in the Rolex world rankings, sitting above every other women’s pro in the game except No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen and No. 3 Stacy Lewis. She left almost $1 million on the table in LPGA winnings this year by continuing to play as an amateur.

“It has always been my dream goal to play on the LPGA, and play against the world's best players,” Ko said in a statement. “I know that becoming a member is not only performing well, but to deal with responsibilities very well. Women's golf is growing day by day, and I would love to be able to inspire other girls to take up the game, and go for it. I believe this is only the start to my career, and I have many new things to learn along the way. I am so grateful to get the opportunity to play with the players I look up to and respect. I can't wait to start the season early next year.”

So how will Ko respond as a pro?

To be sure, life will be different. The pressures are different; the expectations, too.

Once a company makes a substantial investment in a young pro, there are elevated expectations, real or imagined by a player. When you’ve sold a logo spot on your hat, shirt and golf bag, you’ve become somebody’s investment. Somebody’s buying the product you’ve become.

Ko seems well suited to escalating challenges, but even Rory McIlroy might have been affected by his huge new Nike deal this year. 

While there were reports in New Zealand that Ko could garner as much as $6 million in endorsements as a pro, LPGA insiders familiar with the marketing of women’s golf scoff at that. One insider called the figure “mythical.” The market for women’s golf isn’t very good and doesn't compare to the men's game. But people in the business say Ko has something special going for her. While there are limited endorsements opportunities for professional golfers in New Zealand, Ko was born in South Korea. The market for female golfers in South Korea is substantial, if she ends up making that connection. South Korean TV is still the LPGA’s leading revenue source.

Golf marketers are curious where Ko will set up her golfing base. Will she keep it in New Zealand? Will she move to the United States? Will she set up a base in South Korea?

Ko currently plays a mixed golf bag. She wears a Srixon hat because New Zealand Golf’s national development program is funded by Srixon. She won the CN Canadian Women’s Open with a Fourteen Golf CT-112 driver and TaylorMade and Fourteen fairway woods, with Titleist AP2 irons and Titleist Vokey wedges, with a Scotty Cameron putter and Titleist Pro-V1 ball.

Her family reports she will continue to play with a mixed bag when she tees it up for the first time as a pro Nov. 21-24 at the CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla.

While all this seems to be coming so fast, Ko’s success is so tied to one of her great assets, the beautiful, unrushed rhythm of her swing. Her timing is something to marvel over, on and off the course.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.