Punch Shot: Teenage LPGA phenom with brightest future?

By Rex HoggardOctober 15, 2013, 5:55 pm

Women's professional golf keeps skewing younger and younger. Three of the game's most promising stars are teenagers: Lydia Ko, 16; Lexi Thompson, 18; and Charley Hull, 17. New Zealander Ko and American Thompson both have two LPGA wins and one on the Ladies European Tour. England's Hull helped the European Solheim Cup team defeat its U.S. counterpart earlier this year. Which one has the brightest future? GolfChannel.com writers debate.


Although in the short term the outcome depends on the good graces of LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, in the long run the depth of talent already demonstrated by Lydia Ko makes the teenager the best prospect in the game regardless of age.

That Whan is still mulling whether to grant Ko an age waiver to become a LPGA member next season is a bigger mystery than who will have a better career, Ko, Lexi Thompson or Charley Hull?

If Thompson set the standard with her victory at the Navistar LPGA Classic as a 16-year-old, Ko has redefined the DNA of a prodigy. At 14 she won her first professional event on the Australian ladies circuit and went one better in 2012 to become the youngest winner on the LPGA with her victory at the Canadian Women’s Open.

For good measure, Ko went back to back at the Canadian event this season, lapping the field by five strokes.

After finishing runner-up at the Evian Championship in September, Ko announced she will turn pro this year but the fact is, whether Whan has any interest in admitting it with a waiver, the teen is already among the top five players in the world according to the Rolex Rankings.

At 16 she has already eclipsed Hull and Thompson. There’s no reason to think that won’t be the case when she’s 60.


Give me one of the longest players on the LPGA, the one who averages 270 yards per pop and has the potential to reduce many venues to a wedge contest.

Lydia Ko is the real deal. She knows how to score and, it appears, how to win. Charley Hull is dynamic but remains largely unproven. But Lexi Thompson now has three career wins – in Alabama, Malaysia and Dubai – and enough upside to stake her claim as a future world No. 1. Her power and athleticism make her the most exciting prospect in the women’s game … so long as her putter cooperates, as it did last week, when she won by four.

Thompson hasn’t finished better than 112th on tour in putting each of the past two years, and she’s currently ranked 110th this season. If a coach can mold her into an above-average putter, she could become an LPGA world-beater. 


Between Lydio Ko, Lexi Thompson and Charley Hull, you can’t go wrong. Picking one for the future is like picking between three burgeoning blue-chip stocks: Sure there’s some risk involved, but it’s easily outweighed by the potential reward.

With that in mind, give me Ko for one reason alone – she can flat-out putt.

Everyone on the LPGA can hit the ball in varying degrees of brilliance, but the ability to get the ball into the hole with the flatstick is what separates the elite from the rest of the pack.

Consider this: At No. 2 on the driving distance list with just over 270 yards per drive this season, Thompson averaged 25 more yards off the tee than Inbee Park. The difference, of course, is that Park has been deadly on the greens, which will lead to her winning the Player of the Year award.

Ko has the ability to be a Park-like putter throughout her career. That alone should separate her – ever so slightly – from the other teenage phenoms making headlines right now.


While Charley Hull rightfully garnered attention during this year’s Solheim Cup, she remains somewhat of an unknown entity for prognostication purposes. For me, this question is between the two teens with multiple titles to their credit, and I’m going with the one who hasn’t even turned pro yet: Lydia Ko.

While both have shown flashes of greatness, Ko has done more often in fewer overall opportunities, and has shown greater overall consistency. For the past two years, the Kiwi has earned low amateur honors upon teeing it up in any major, but has also gone on to contend time and again with professionals twice her age. This is not to mention her multiple wins as an amateur, including the remarkable feat of successfully defending her CN Canadian Women’s Open title across two different courses.

While Thompson’s length off the tee will always remain a strong asset, her putter has a tendency to desert her on occasion, which is a troubling trend. Hers will likely be a successful career, but may not reach the heights of Ko, who appears to have the more well-rounded game.  So given the choice, I’ll take Ko, a player who already seems well on her way to the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings – an achievement that, given her current spot at No. 5, she may accomplish sooner rather than later. 

Getty Images

U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

Getty Images

Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

Getty Images

Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

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

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

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

Getty Images

Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."