Whan has no choice but to waive age-restriction clause for Ko

By Randall MellOctober 11, 2013, 1:45 am

How do you deny Lydia Ko?

How do you say no to granting her a waiver of the LPGA’s rule requiring members to be at least 18 after all she has proven?

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan probably will grant a waiver to the New Zealand teen phenom now that she has petitioned, but he won’t do it lightly. As winner of the CN Canadian Women’s Open in August, Ko earned the right to claim LPGA membership, but at 16, she needs that waiver before she can do so.

Ko is planning to play the LPGA’s season finale, the CME Group Titleholders, as a pro next month, though she may make her professional debut a week before that, at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Whether she’s granted LPGA membership or not, Ko is going to be playing tour events as a pro from now on.

The question doesn’t seem to be whether Whan will grant the waiver, but when he should make it effective. Should membership be granted immediately? Or deferred until the start of next season? Or deferred until she turns 17 on April 24? That last option might be problematic for the family with the 2014 LPGA season getting such a big start in Australia and Asia, that part of the world Ko calls home.

Lydia Ko: Articles, videos and photos

As easy as this decision seems, Whan won’t rubber-stamp Ko’s petition. He is the father of three teenage sons. He sees the long view, because as deserving as Ko is, there’s more to his decision. There is more to ask than whether Ko is ready. There are questions about ramifications. About who comes next. About what messages are sent by granting another waiver to another 16-year-old. Lexi Thompson was also 16 when she got a waiver two seasons ago.

Before Ko and Thompson came along, Morgan Pressel, Aree Song and Jessica Korda got waivers, but they were all 17 and nearing their 18th birthdays. You can see what’s happening. You can see the petitions coming from younger prodigies now. Last year, Ariya Jutanugarn asked for a waiver when she was 16.

How many other 16-year-olds are coming next? And when will the next 15-year-old win?

Whan doesn’t want to be the commissioner who validated a new blueprint for teens wanting to play professional golf.

It’s a real dilemma for him.

Almost three years ago, back when Thompson was still 15, I asked Whan if he feared a new wave of teen phenoms will come knocking on the LPGA’s door. This was back after Thompson turned pro, but nine months before she won the Navistar Classic. This was back when Whan denied Thompson’s petition for 12 sponsor invites for the 2011 season, a total double what the tour normally allows non-members.

“At the real core of it, I didn’t think I wanted to be the commissioner that created a new pathway to the LPGA that made young girls around the world think that as a freshman or sophomore in high school that they have a big decision to make,” Whan told GolfChannel.com at the time. “I didn’t want to create this worldwide phenomenon where 14 year-olds are sitting in their living room and thinking, `High school or pro?’ It didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”

After Thompson won late in 2011, Whan granted her a waiver, though it was deferred until the start of the next season. He did so knowing what might follow.

“I respect the fact that Lexi is on a unique plane, performance-wise,” Whan said then. “I also know there’s another Lexi coming down the road in another couple years, but the standard’s going to be pretty high.”

So that’s where we are. Ko is that next player coming down the road, and she has more than met Whan’s high standard.

She’s another extraordinary exception to the rule.

That will be Whan’s way of holding back the floodgates, of tempering blueprints. Ko didn’t just meet the standard. She elevated it.

There’s the obvious evidence of why Ko deserves LPGA membership. She has won a pair of LPGA titles among her four professional victories. In 11 LPGA starts as an amateur this season, she left nearly a million dollars on the table. She just finished runner-up to Suzann Pettersen at the Evian Championship, a major. She is No. 5 in the Rolex world rankings.

Those are ridiculously compelling reasons to grant a waiver, but there’s more than performance in question here, and that’s what actually makes this easier for Whan.

Ko and her family showed remarkable patience and restraint through Lydia’s amateur run of success. They could have pushed to claim membership when she won the CN Canadian Women’s Open as a 15-year-old. They could have pushed for it after she won it again this year. They could have insisted she turn pro at any time this year to start collecting paychecks.

The family treaded carefully, though, planned cautiously, even as Lydia quietly began to lobby them to let her turn pro.

In her 11 LPGA starts this year, Ko got to show LPGA leadership and players a level of professional behavior (outside collecting paychecks) and maturity. That’s a lot of starts, a lot of exposure to all kinds of situations. It’s a lot of time to allow LPGA brass to interact with her and observe her.

Ko is a smart, level-headed young woman. She handles herself beautifully, without a hint of petulance or entitlement. Her family ought to get a load of credit for that. Her mother, Tina, has been at her side every step of the way. Tina, her husband and their team have guided this prodigy so skillfully.

Ko sets a standard that requires something extraordinary for the next 16-year-old prodigy to meet.

That’s why Ko’s petition won’t be denied. Whan doesn't have to lower the bar, not with Ko raising it.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.