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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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.