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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.”

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USGA, R&A detail World Handicap System

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2018, 2:00 pm

The USGA and the R&A released details Tuesday of a proposed new World Handicap System.

The WHS takes the six handicapping systems that exist worldwide and aligns them under a new single system.

The USGA and the R&A will govern the WHS with the six existing handicap authorities administering them locally. A two-year transition will begin to fully implement the new system in 2020.

The unified alignment is designed to make it easier to obtain and maintain a handicap and to make the handicap more equitable among golfers of differing abilities and genders around the world.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis said the effort is designed to both simplify and unify the handicap system.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play,” he said.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said the new handicap system should make the game more inviting.

“We want to make it more attractive to golfers to obtain a handicap and strip away some of the complexity and variation which can be off-putting for newcomers,” Slumbers said. “Having a handicap, which is easier to understand and is truly portable around the world, can make golf much more enjoyable and is one of the unique selling points of our sport.”

The new WHS system aims to more accurately gauge the score a golfer is “reasonably capable of achieving” on any course around the world under normal conditions.

Key features of the WHS include:

  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.
  • A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”
  • A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.  
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.
  • A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only). 
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and the R&A devised the WHS after a review of the handicap systems currently administered by six authorities around the world: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA. Those authorities, plus the Japan Golf Association and Golf Canada, collaborated in helping develop the new system.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.  

“While the six existing handicap systems have generally worked very well locally, on a global basis, their different characteristics have sometimes resulted in inconsistency, with players of the same ability ending up with slightly different handicaps,” the USGA and the R&A stated in a joint release. “This has sometimes resulted in unnecessary difficulties and challenges for golfers competing in handicap events or for tournament administrators. A single WHS will pave the way to consistency and portability.”

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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Randall's Rant: Tiger no longer one with the chaos

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2018, 9:49 pm

Back in the day, Tiger Woods appeared to relish riding atop the chaos, above the raucous waves of excitement that followed him wherever he went.

Like Kelly Slater surfing epic peaks at Banzai Pipeline ...

Like Chris Sharma dangling atop all the hazards on the cliff face of “The Impossible Climb” at Clark Mountain ...

Hell, like Chuck Yeager ahead of the sonic boom he created breaking the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert in 1947.

It was difficult to tell whether Woods was fueling the bedlam in his duel with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, or if it was fueling him.

Fans scampered in a frenzy you rarely see in golf to get the best look they could at his next shot at Valhalla in that playoff.

Same thing when Woods turned his 15-shot rout into a victory parade in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that same year.

And when Woods improbably chipped in at the 16th at Augusta National to shake every pine tree at the Masters before going on to defeat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

Tiger brought a boisterous, turbulent new wave of excitement to the game, unrivaled since Arnie’s Army followed the legend in his heyday.

Woods attracted new fans who did not understand golf’s time-honored traditions. He lured them to the game’s most hallowed grounds. There were challenges with that, though they always seemed more daunting to Woods’ playing partners than to him.

At his best, Tiger seemed to be one with the chaos, able to turn its energy into his energy.

Every Tiger pairing in his prime turned wherever he was into a home game, turned every golf course into his stadium and transformed every opponent into the visiting team.

We heard how hard that was for the Bob Mays, Chris DiMarcos and even the Ernie Els of the world.



That’s what added to the intrigue of Tiger’s return to Riviera last week, and what will make this week at PGA National and the Honda Classic similarly interesting.

Tiger’s back.

Well, the overly exuberant frenzy only he can create is back, but his game isn’t. Not yet. And now we’re hearing how the bedlam is a challenge to more than his playing partners. It’s a challenge to his game, too.

“It cost me a lot of shots over the years,” Woods said at the Genesis Open. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.

“I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

Huh? Did Tiger forget the advantage he had playing in a storm? Or are today’s storms different, more unruly, more destructive?

Did having total control of all facets of his game when he was at his best make the bedlam work for him?

Does the focus it requires to find his old magic today make the chaos work against him?

Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about difficult conditions going into a major, he checked them off his list of competitive threats.

You wonder if Tiger did the same back in the day, when players talked about the challenges that surrounded a pairing with him.

Golf is different than other sports. That has to be acknowledged here.

When you hear mainstream sports fans wonder what is so wrong with a fan yelling in a player’s backswing, you know they don’t understand the game. A singular comment breaking the silence over a player’s shot in golf is like a fan sneaking onto the field in football and tripping a receiver racing up the sideline. It is game-changing chaos.

Is Tiger facing game-changing chaos now?

Or was Riviera’s noise something he just can’t harness in his current state of repair? Is there more pressure on him trying to come back in that environment?

If Rory McIlroy needed a “couple Advil” for the headache the mayhem at the Genesis Open caused him playing with Tiger last week, then May and DiMarco must have needed shots of Demerol.

Then all those guys who lost majors to Tiger in final-round pairings with him must have felt like they endured four-hour migraines.

“It got a little out of hand,” Justin Thomas said of his two days with Tiger at Riviera.

Maybe McIlroy and Thomas were dealing with something boisterously new, more Phoenix Open in its nausea than anything Tiger created when he broke golf out of a niche.

Whatever it is, Tiger’s challenge finding his best will be even more complicated if he’s no longer one with the chaos, if he can no longer turn its energy into his energy.

If that’s the case, he really may be just one of the guys this time around.

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What's in the bag: Genesis Open winner Watson

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 7:02 pm

Bubba Watson won the Genesis Open for a third time in his career. Here's a look inside his bag:

Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

Hybrid: Ping G (19 degrees), with Matrix Altus Hybrid X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (2), Ping S55 (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (52 degrees, 56 degrees, 62 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD Anser

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x