Monday Scramble: Ko, Hahn's stories deserve attention


Unlike the Oscars, the Northern Trust Open was a Hollywood production that viewers didn’t mind spilling into an extra hour. More on James Hahn’s unlikely breakthrough, Lydia Ko's brilliance, the PGA of America’s “Meet the Press” moment and everything else in this LA edition of the Monday Scramble:

The drama has been drained out of the PGA of America’s Tuesday news conference regarding the future of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. All that remains now are the catchphrases – about foundations and committees and starting something special.

Forget Medinah redemption. That was so 2014. On Tuesday the PGA will push the narrative that this is merely the beginning of a bigger plan – a 20-year Ryder Cup plan! – that will be powered by the overhyped task force. Continuity will be stressed, players will be more heavily involved, assistants will be selected as part of the grooming process – it’s all about changing the culture of losing for what has become a sad-sack U.S. Ryder Cup team. (Never mind that in choosing Davis Love III the PGA returned to one of the captains who lost.) We tolerate this big-picture talk on Feb. 24, but what happens if the Americans drop another Ryder Cup in fall 2016? That "foundation" would surely crumble. Indeed, the PGA will not only have a hard time staying the course amid increased public pressure, but also convincing players, sponsors and fans that Team USA is headed in the right direction.

1. Few things in golf have been as frustrating as TV’s insistence on showing James Hahn’s "Gangnam Style" dance in Phoenix every time his name appears on a leaderboard. Spend a little time with the 33-year-old, and it’s clear that his is actually one of the best stories going on the PGA Tour: 

  • Every now and then Hahn will search YouTube for swing tips, because he wants his swing to look "pretty."
  • Frustrated with his role and game, Hahn quit Cal his senior year, in ’03. The next year, the Golden Bears won the NCAA title. 
  • In 2006, he sold women’s shoes at Nordstrom, partly because it helped him pick up girls. He also traded stocks, got his real-estate license, drove a bus, worked in marketing and advertising agencies, and served as an assistant pro.
  • In 2008, his career was on life support with only $288 in his bank account. On Sunday, he deposited $1.2 million.
  • At the 2009 Q-School, Hahn four-putted the final green to miss earning his Tour card by a shot.
  • Hahn’s wife has been driving a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta with 130,000 miles. If he finished top five at the Riv, he promised to buy her a new ride. With a baby due soon, the hot new ride will probably be a souped-up minivan. 

So, please, enough with the silly dance clip. James Hahn is SO much more than that.

2. What a brutally honest – and refreshing – interview by Sergio Garcia in the wake of his bogey-bogey finish that left him one shot out of the NTO playoff. It seemed like another crushing defeat in a career full of them, only he didn’t take it that way. Not at all. As he told CBS only minutes after signing his card, “I’ve always been truthful to myself and I didn’t deserve to win this week. It’s as simple as that. … I can’t really be disappointed, because I didn’t play well enough.” 

Many have accused Garcia of being a mentally soft (or worse) during his career, but it’s clear that he’s mellowing as he approaches his late-30s. As he showed at the Open and Firestone, Garcia has been gracious in defeat while also looking inward. A few years ago, who could have anticipated that he’d become a lovable loser? 

Look: He is even brushing off the Twitter trolls!

3. Jordan Spieth is the rare 20-something who cares more about trophies than prize money. His bold attempt to chip in on the 72nd hole may have cost him a spot in the playoff, but his go-for-broke style is appreciated here.  

4. Lydia Ko cemented her place at world No. 1 with a stout victory at Royal Melbourne, her sixth career LPGA title. The 17-year-old is already among the most impressive teens in the game’s long history, but it’s apparent that her ascendance has not yet registered with the mainstream sports audience. It’s not a perfect example, of course, but not once was Ko’s victory mentioned on a three-hour SportsCenter. Why?

  • Is it because she’s not an American? (Likely a factor, as it is with Rory.)
  • Is it because women’s golf is a niche of a niche? (Yes.)
  • Is it because Ko’s style of play is not very flashy? (It doesn’t help.)
  • Is it because ESPN is heavily influenced by the sports with which it owns the TV rights, and to that end it carries very little women’s golf? (Certainly.)

A shame, because we’re likely witnessing the second coming of Annika. 

5. By the way: Has anybody else noticed that the 17-year-old is tatted up?

The new ink on her right wrist is Roman numbers IV-XXVII-XIV. Translation: April 27, 2014, or the day she captured her first title as a LPGA member, at the Swinging Skirts, when her parents were in attendance.

6. So, if you are keeping score at home, Lydia Ko now has nine pro titles. That’s more than Lexi Thompson (4) and Michelle Wie (4) ... COMBINED. 

7. Six degrees of separation, Ko edition: Bohyun Park earned medalist honors at Monday’s New Zealand Women’s Open qualifier. At 12 years old, she will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Ko, who was that age when she made her first appearance in the event. But the similarities don’t stop there: Park plays with a set of Ko’s old golf clubs and is taught by her former instructor, Guy Wilson. 

8. Indeed, we’re not just experiencing a youth movement in golf. At this stage it’s a hostile takeover. So it was Sunday that 16-year-old Hannah O’Sullivan won a Symetra Tour event by four shots. This was interesting for several reasons, but mostly because 1.) O’Sullivan couldn’t even win an AJGA event in two tries at Longbow Golf Club, and 2.) She is the TWENTY-FIRST ranked junior golfer in the country, which means there are even more talented youngsters in the pipeline. Sorry, USC, but it seems unlikely that she’ll ever play an event for the Trojans beginning in fall 2016. 

9. To the surprise of no one, Tiger Woods is skipping this week’s Honda Classic because he isn’t yet ready for the spotlight of tournament play. (If he doesn’t return in three weeks at Bay Hill, his troubles are even deeper than they’d appear.) Compounding the issue now is that any start he’d make pre-Masters isn’t exactly a soft landing spot – unless he breaks from tradition.

Think about it:

  • Claustrophobic Innisbrook is a ball-striker’s paradise, and, well, that hasn’t exactly been his specialty of late
  • It’d be a surprise if he didn’t play Bay Hill, given his history there (eight wins), but it too can be punishing in setup
  • TPC San Antonio is one of the toughest courses on Tour, yielding a double-digit winner just once since 2011

Which leads to this question: Why doesn’t Tiger add Houston?

He has never teed it up the week before the Masters, but let's face it, this indefinite break is already uncharted territory. If Woods’ issues are truly between the ears (as suggested here and here), then he needs to make birdies and develop some positive mojo. What better way to get ready for Augusta than to warm up on a course that is set up to resemble the Masters host, with little rough, closely mown chipping areas (shield your eyes!), speedy greens and fairways that are cut from green to tee?

10. Three months ago, Anirban Lahiri was on the verge of missing out on his European Tour card. Straddling the cut line at 7 under par, he needed to birdie two of the last five holes just to move safely inside the cut line. 

Fast forward to Sunday, where the 27-year-old Indian … deep breath … erased a seven-shot deficit to win his home Open, earn his second European Tour title in the past three weeks (and fourth overall since last May), move inside the top 35 in the world rankings, secure a spot in the upcoming Masters and rise to No. 2 in the season-long Race to Dubai. “It feels like I’ve skipped a couple of steps to get to where I am right now,” he said Sunday. Maybe so, but Lahiri is now only a few more rungs from golf’s highest altitude. 

11. Many watched Ryan Moore’s tee shot lip-out and bellowed that Riviera’s 10th is unfair. In truth, the ball carried too much pace, and it rode the slope to the left of the green. Cruel, yes, but not entirely unfair. 

No, a better example of how badly the green needs to be redone is Scott Piercy’s pinballing around the green.

This is what happens when one of the best par 4s in the world becomes a tricked-up gimmick. 

Everybody has an idea about how to curb slow play – fine the pros, give more power to the rangers, send a little friendly fire into the group ahead, load up on beer when the cart girl swings by. Seems Michael Jordan is so ticked off by the pace of play at the Bear’s Club that he’s thinking about doing something even more drastic: build his own South Florida course, as reported. (Take that, lollygaggers!) This is a ridiculous solution, of course, but he certainly has the cash supply to do it. Forbes reports that MJ rakes in about $90 million annually and has a net worth of more than $1 billion. Hey, if nothing else, he’ll probably have more success owning a golf course than an NBA franchise ... 

One man’s top-three most memorable moments of the West Coast swing: 1.) The Riviera playoff, especially the unbelievable flop shots on 10; 2.) Dash Day running wildly through a greenside bunker on 18 after Daddy won; and 3.) Another parking-lot interview with Tiger. … PSA: Golf now heads east to Florida. Which means the Masters is only 44 days away. … With nine consecutive top-25 finishes worldwide, including the stirring victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Bubba Watson has ascended to No. 2 in the world for the first time in his career. He finished T-14 at Riviera. … And so ends a year of top-tier winners. Entering the L.A. Open James Hahn was ranked No. 297 in the world. The combined rank of the other 2015 winners (Reed, Walker, Haas, Koepka, Day, Sneds): 185. … Amazing stat: Brandt Snedeker has ZERO career top 10s in his first start following a victory. A week after his macho win at Pebble, Sneds was 74th among the 75 players who played the weekend at Riviera. ... No Ws so far, but consider how sneaky-good Hideki Matsuyama’s 2014-15 season has been: T-3, T-3, T-2, T-4. ... Eventual playoff loser Paul Casey hit a cold shank on the 13th hole Sunday. Um, someone probably should have told these people on 18. 

Because, right now, DJ is the far better player. Upon returning from his six-month leave of absence, Johnson has a pair of top-5 finishes, further validating why I predicted he’d have a two-win 2015. He finally seems prepared to unlock all of his immense potential, which is bad news for the rest of the Tour, because at times he can make the game appear frighteningly easy. Tiger’s issues are more widespread, from the physical (technique) to the mental (yips) to the psychological (shame and embarrassment). It’s possible that not even an indefinite break is long enough to sort through all of that mess.