Japanese teen must avoid comparisons to reach potential

By Jason SobelNovember 30, 2013, 8:00 pm

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. – Yuhka Kajiki is an ultra-talented up-and-coming golfer, the type whose name we should remember so we can someday say we knew about her before she hit the big-time.

Just 17, Kajiki has already won multiple high-level junior tournaments. She’s currently weighing her options to compete at a Division I school next year. And her average driving distance of 240 yards would rank her in the top half of the LPGA.

Impressive stuff for a kid who moved from Japan two years ago with little working knowledge of the English language to train and study at the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy. Her instructor, Scott Shaffer, believes she could become the best player ever from her home country – “better than Ai,” he says, referring to Ai Miyazato, who owns 25 career victories around the world.

None of these sentiments or accolades, though, can diffuse the pressure she feels on a daily basis. From family back home and – mostly – from herself. In fact, they may only magnify it.

That’s because Kajiki is like so many other ultra-talented golfers her age, struggling on a daily basis to avoid playing the comparison game.

After all, she is just a year younger than Lexi Thompson, who already owns three career LPGA victories. And a year older than Lydia Ko, who has won twice.

The result is an intersection where inspiration meets intimidation, a crossroads where those disguised as peers of phenoms based solely on age can either use those tales as motivation or allow the success of others to swallow them whole, ruining their self-image and confidence.

“We always try to teach our students not to compare themselves to somebody else,” explains Gilchrist, owner and founder of the academy and a longtime instructor of various touring pros. “When they did that on the PGA Tour with Tiger Woods, nobody could play golf anymore. Once you compare, you feel inadequate.

“We also try and help the students learn from others instead of comparing. What makes them so good at that age? It’s usually golfing IQ. They’re just a lot more mature as golfers. There are going to be people like that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to that level one day.”

It’s an appropriate message, of course, but easier said than done.

Kajiki maintains that it’s difficult to see girls her age – and younger – successfully competing on TV without feeling pressure to hurry up and join them yesterday.

“Even my parents say, ‘Why don’t you be like them? Why don’t you hurry?’ But myself, I’m just like, ‘That’s OK. I just want to play golf,’” she says. “Sometimes I fight with my mom, because she can’t get what I’m thinking and I can’t get what she’s trying to tell me, so it kind of becomes complicated.

“She compares me to other people. So when she compares me to other people, I get really upset, because I feel like I didn’t do anything. I feel really disappointed in myself.”

Parents wanting a better performance from their teenagers and browbeating them to the point of dissension is hardly a new development. Add in the dynamic of being on opposite sides of the world and the message can become more pressure-laden, the tension more palpable.

For Kajiki, like so many others her age, the journey hasn’t been an easy one.

“I think she’s just getting more comfortable with being here and being able to calm down and not focus so much on what everybody expects of her,” Shaffer says. “She’s dealing with it a lot better. It was almost to the point where if you talked to her about it before, she would have just started crying. She’s very emotional. But she’s starting to have some better outcomes and she’s seeing that only when she’s stressed out does the outcome become harder to reach. The quieter and more calm she can be, the better the outcomes become.”

The theory in itself sounds like a paradox: The more you want to succeed, the calmer you need to be.

If teaching algebra to a student in their second language is difficult, this message can often come across as near-impossible.

“It’s not a race; it’s not a sprint to get there,” promises Gilchrist, who has 70 students from 20 countries currently attending his academy. “I want her to look at those girls and ask, ‘What can I learn from them to help me improve?’ I want her to embrace it.

“Her personality, she wants results tomorrow. If she’s not getting it, she gets impatient and starts getting frustrated and negative. We have to say to her, ‘What’s your plan to get there?’ Then we take one step at a time. … Her responsibility is to build her confidence, build her self-image and trust her talent and ability to get her there. And if she doesn’t see it, then she’s never going to get there.”

Kajiki is finally starting to see it. She’s finally starting to understand that not every junior golfer can be Lexi Thompson or Lydia Ko – or on the boy’s side, Jordan Spieth or Matteo Manassero. That’s an important distinction, one which can ruin a player’s confidence if they’re focused too much on the comparison game.

When asked about other players her age already enjoying success on the professional level, Kajiki pauses for a second, remembers these lessons and offers a response that sounds straight out of the junior golf handbook.

“They’re the same age,” she says, “but they’re different.”

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Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.

Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.

Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.

“I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”

Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.

The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.

“If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”

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Masters, Players and U.S. Open champs grouped at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:50 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Fresh off a second straight U.S. Open victory, Brooks Koepka is getting right back to work at the Travelers Championship.

Koepka has stood by his commitment to tee it up at TPC River Highlands, becoming the first U.S. Open champ to play the following week on the PGA Tour since Justin Rose played the Travelers after his 2013 win at Merion. Koepka will play the first two rounds alongside Masters champ Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, who captured The Players Championship last month.

Here’s a look at some of the other marquee, early-round groupings for a star-studded field outside Hartford (all times ET):

7:50 a.m. Thursday, 12:50 p.m. Friday: Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger

Day is making his second straight Travelers appearance, having missed the cut both last year in Cromwell and last week at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll be joined by reigning Rookie of the Year Schauffele and Berger, who took home ROY honors in 2015 and last year was on the losing end of Jordan Spieth’s playoff dramatics at this event.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

8 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson

Koepka is making his third tournament appearance overall, but his first since a T-9 finish in 2016, before he had either of his two U.S. Open trophies. Reed has become a regular at this event and enters off a fourth-place showing on Long Island, while Simpson cruised to victory last month at TPC Sawgrass and tied for 10th last week.

12:50 p.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Russell Knox

This was the tournament that turned things around last year for Spieth, who took home the title in his debut thanks to one of the most dramatic shots of the year in a playoff against Berger. He’ll start his title defense alongside a pair of past champs, as Leishman won here for his first Tour title back in 2012 and Knox was a winner two years ago when the tournament was played in August.

1 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

This group should get plenty of attention in the early rounds, with Thomas entering as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 and joined a pair of players who will launch drives all across TPC River Highlands. Watson has feasted on this layout, winning in both 2010 and 2015 among five top-10 finishes, while McIlroy tied for 17th last year in his tournament debut but missed the cut last week at Shinnecock.

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Travelers Championship: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 19, 2018, 5:30 pm

There will be plenty of star power this week in Hartford as the PGA Tour moves north for the Travelers Championship. Here is the key info for this week's event.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM 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: $7 million

Course: TPC River Highlands (par 70, 6,841 yards)

Defending champion: Jordan Spieth. Defeated Daniel Berger with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

Notables in the field

Jordan Spieth

• Missed last two cuts (the Memorial, U.S. Open) entering this week

• 188th on PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting (4th in strokes gained: tee to green)

• Only player to win Travelers Championship back-to-back: Phil Mickelson (2001-02)

Brooks Koepka

• Making third career start in Travelers Championship (last start: T-9 in 2016)

• First player to play Travelers week after U.S. Open win since 2013 (Justin Rose)

• First player to win U.S. Open back-to-back since 1988-89 (Curtis Strange)

Justin Thomas

• Fifth career start in this event (MC, T-3, MC last three years)

• Second on PGA Tour this season in strokes gained: tee to green (+1.49)

Rory McIlroy

• Second career start in Travelers Championship (T-17 last year)

• Missed cut last week at U.S. Open (shot 80 in opening round)

Jason Day

• Fourth career start in Travelers Championship (best finish: T-18 in 2014)

• Leads PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting this season

Patrick Reed

• Earned second-most world ranking points of any player in 2018

• Finished fourth at U.S. Open last week (three shots behind Koepka)

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Day 'disappointed' in USGA's handling of course, Phil

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:16 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jason Day had the weekend off following a missed cut at the U.S. Open, but that didn’t prevent the Aussie from keeping an eye on all the drama that unfolded at Shinnecock Hills.

The former world No. 1 found it “disappointing,” – with “it” being both the deterioration of a major championship setup and the fallout from Phil Mickelson’s putter slap during the third round.

Day is hoping to bounce back from an early exit at this week’s Travelers Championship, but before turning his attention to TPC River Highlands he shared that the brunt of his disappointment stemmed from the USGA’s inability to keep Shinnecock playable during the third round and their subsequent decision to water it down for the tournament’s conclusion.

“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Day said. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

But Day’s frustration also tied back to Mickelson’s head-turning decision to hit a moving ball on the 13th green during the third round, and the USGA’s subsequent ruling that the actions merited a two-shot penalty but not a disqualification.

“It’s obviously disappointing to see what Phil did,” he said. “I think a lot of people have mixed reviews about what he did.”

USGA officials explained over the weekend that Mickelson’s actions explicitly fell under Rule 14-5, which called for a two-shot addition and turned his score of 8 into a 10, rather than Rule 1-2 or Rule 33-7 that could have resulted in disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules.

Day felt it was unfortunate that all of Saturday’s drama deflected attention from a world-class performance from Brooks Koepka en route to a successful title defense, but when it comes to the handling of the Mickelson controversy he believes the USGA could have made good use of a mulligan.

“It’s just unfortunate that it happened at the USGA’s tournament, where they enforce the rules, like the R&A. And I think they may have, they probably should have enforced a different outcome for Phil,” Day said. “But it is what it is. It’s done. It’s just disappointing that that is overshadowing the winner of the whole week. I think if they had it back again, they may have chosen a different outcome.”