What's gone wrong with Ko this season?

By Randall MellSeptember 7, 2017, 12:19 am

Lydia Ko’s struggles this summer have moved beyond trying to win for the first time in more than a year.

Her battle of late is more against the cut line than contenders.

Even Ko, the determined optimist, is perplexed by this.

Ko tees it up at the Indy Women in Tech Championship this week conceding her confidence is challenged in the first prolonged swoon of her remarkable career.

“I think it would be a lie to say I’ve been positive all the way through,” Ko said Wednesday. “There have been times when I have said, ‘Man, I don’t know why I have not been playing as well.’ It’s a big learning curve, where it’s not always going to be a high. Fortunately, for me, the last few years I’ve had so many highs. It’s been going in that direction where I’ve not really stumbled on a rock.”

Ko was the most accomplished teen phenom the women’s game had ever seen, but things haven’t come as easily to her since she turned 20 in April. Actually, her slip in form began even before that, with some struggles beginning late last year.

Ko, who won 14 LPGA titles as a teenager, made sweeping changes before coming into this season, beginning the year with a new caddie, new equipment and a new coach.

The transition has been tougher than she expected.

Ko arrived in Indianapolis this week off a missed cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, an event she won as a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old. It was her second missed cut in three starts, a stretch that was close to being three straight MCs. She made the cut on the number at the Ricoh Women’s British Open before heading to Canada.

Ko has seven top-10 finishes this year, but none since the start of summer, none over her last seven starts.



After missing just one cut in her first 94 LPGA starts, Ko has now missed three in her last 14 starts.

What’s happening?

“I just haven’t been able to put all the pieces together,” Ko said. “In Canada, I hit the ball really well the first day and struggled with the putter. On the second day, I wasn’t hitting it good. That’s why it’s hard to put it all together, when not everything is there.

“It’s about balance, and more a confidence thing.”

Ko’s struggles have raised questions about whether she left something behind making so many changes in her push to improve when she already ruled atop the women’s game.

For 85 consecutive weeks, Ko reigned as Rolex world No. 1, before losing that top spot in June. Her rankings slide continued this week with a move down to No. 8.

Gary Gilchrist, Ko’s swing coach, believes Ko’s challenge is about comfort and confidence. When a player isn’t comfortable, confidence is affected.

While working through all these changes this year, Ko seems to have become more analytical than is her nature.

“Lydia has never been analytical about any part of her game,” Gilchrist said. “She is probably the most natural player, who just used her feel, and went out and played with it. I think the biggest thing for her is to go out again and just play, without too much thinking.”

Gilchrist has a reputation for getting players comfortable by keeping things simple, but Karen Stupples, the Golf Channel analyst and 2004 Women’s British Open champion, believes that hasn’t been easy amid all the changes. She sees Ko struggling to get comfortable through all the transitions this year.

“It takes time to adjust to all those changes,” Stupples said. “In the process of adjusting, she’s lost some confidence.”

Before the 2014 season, Ko’s parents moved her away from the longtime coach of her New Zealand youth, Guy Wilson. They steered her to David Leadbetter, asking that he turn her fade into a draw. Leadbetter did that, and Ko ascended to Rolex world No. 1 under him. They won 14 times around the world together.

Ko’s swing eventually evolved into Leadbetter’s A-Swing, but Lydia’s father, Gil Hong, began moving her away from that movement late last year, even while Lydia was still supposed to be working with Leadbetter. The Kos eventually split with Leadbetter at the end of last season, with Lydia going to work with Gilchrist, who subtly moved Ko back to a more one-plane swing, keeping her draw as her primary ball flight.

While making swing changes with Gilchrist at year’s start, Ko signed a new equipment deal with PXG, transitioning to all its clubs.

“Lydia hasn’t known anything but success in her short career,” Stupples said. “So for her to take on all these dramatic changes, it probably didn’t seem too daunting to her, at the start, because everything has always come so easy for her. She probably thought, ‘I can handle it. It’s no big deal,’ not realizing how much she was actually taking on.”

Stupples says regardless how good new equipment can be, there is a challenge dialing in changes.

“Getting used to new clubs, being fitted, trying new drivers, new irons, that takes away time from the short game,” Stupples said. “You have to take time hitting more full shots, because you’re trying to get used to new clubs and the swing changes. The short game starts to suffer.”

Stupples said wedge play can be the most difficult transition to new clubs, because there’s so much more feel involved. She sees a drop off in Ko’s short game as a real factor in her slip in form.

Ko ranks 23rd on tour in scoring average at 70.24. She was second in scoring last year (69.60) and second the year before that (69.44).

“Lydia’s struggling to score like she used to,” Gilchrist said. “For me, when you want to score better, you start putting more pressure on your putting.”

Ko is sixth on tour in putts per greens in regulation this year, but she has slipped to 18th in putting average. She was first in both putting categories last year.

Maybe the most overlooked change Ko has made was to her putting this season. Before this year, she putted with a conventional grip for longer putts, then moved to left-hand low for shorter putts. She abandoned left-hand low under Gilchrist, and she also changed the path of her stroke, moving away from the push stroke she grew up with.

This summer, Ko made more changes, bringing in a new putting coach, Gareth Raflewski, who also works with Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn. And she moved back to left-hand low in her last start, at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.

“It’s not the same left-hand low I used to have,” Ko told GolfChannel.com. “I’m trying to find the most comfortable grip that will produce the best putts.”

Gilchrist said comfort is a large factor in Ko holing more putts.

“Lydia’s putting stroke is actually better now, technically, than it has been in the past,” Gilchrist said. “She’s done amazing work on it, but it’s funny how things work. When you are comfortable and confident, you might not have the best stroke, but the ball is goes in. And while you can be more technically sound, if you aren’t comfortable and confident, it doesn’t go in.”

Ko’s driving stats have actually improved over last year. Her iron play isn’t as sharp as it was two years ago. She ranked second in greens in regulation on tour in 2015, slipped to 31st last year and is 47th this year.

“Her iron play hasn’t been up to her standard,” Gilchrist acknowledged.

But, Gilchrist said, ball striking was never what set Ko apart.

“I’ve always said, she’s a genius, that her mind is her real strength, as a player,” Gilchrist said. “Her strength never had to be ball striking.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin wasn’t surprised Ko would encounter challenges this year, but she believes Ko will work through them.

“Watching the No. 1 player in the world go through such massive changes was very interesting to me,” said Rankin, a Golf Channel analyst. “To be where she was in the world, and change everything, whether you are aware of it or not, has to be a bit of a confidence shaker.

“If you come out the first two or three weeks of the season and set the world on fire, it goes unnoticed, but when you don’t, there’s that little bit of doubt that hadn’t been there before, and now it seems to be there consistently, and it grows.”

World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu needed almost a full year to get comfortable with the overhaul she made after going to Cameron McCormick as her coach before the 2016 season. Those changes are paying off big this year.

“Lydia is so dedicated,” Gilchrist said. “She puts in all the time and work, and she has a great support system in her parents and her sister, Sura. I think it’s just a matter of being more patient, and letting it happen, instead of trying to make it happen. It’s trusting and believing in what you’re doing, and sticking with it, until you’re comfortable and it feels good.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''


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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''