Komania nation divided on turning pro, following Wie

By Jason SobelFebruary 17, 2013, 6:36 pm

Welcome to Komania. Population: Me.

OK, that’s not completely true. From my perch high atop the Lydia Ko bandwagon, I’m still surrounded by others, although many supporters voluntarily jumped overboard following the 15-year-old’s final-round 76 that left her in “only” third place at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

That just leaves more room for the rest of us. Her performance makes seven top-10 results in 13 career starts in professional events for the amateur, which should be enough to make her the first golfer since Tiger Woods to have the suffix “-mania” attached to her name, even if it does sound like an Eastern European nation.

What’s not to like about Ko? She has a gorgeous swing and drains more than her fair share of putts. As if that’s not enough, she handles herself like a player twice her age. When she won last week in New Zealand, she cried tears of joy. When she lost this week in Australia, there were no tears, only congratulatory smiles for playing partner Jiyai Shin.

Shin tops 15-year-old Ko in LPGA opener

Great kid. Great potential. Great story.

Like most stories these days, though, it’s not enough to simply watch this one develop and see where it takes us. We must speculate and deliberate what the future holds.

In the case of Ko, this leads to two pressing questions: 1. When will she turn professional? and 2. Will she become the next Michelle Wie?

Let’s first address the first one. After finishing four shots behind Shin in the LPGA season-opener, Ko said, “I’ve got a couple of years until I turn pro, so I guess within that period hopefully I’ll be able to get a little bit better.”

That hasn’t stopped the masses from questioning her logic and debating whether she’s making the correct decision. In those 13 starts, Ko would have already banked more than a half-million dollars, which has some critics blasting her for leaving money on the table.

If that sounds more than a little callous, it should. Here’s all I need to know about her decision: I wouldn’t want Ko offering career advice to me, so I’ll refrain from offering any to her. Instead, I’ll just respect whatever she chooses.

The truth is, it’s unnerving how many people wish to push their opinions on her.

A quick admission: I didn’t know much about 15-year-old girls back when I was a 15-year-old boy, which could explain all those weekend nights reorganizing my baseball card collection. Now that I’m, well, slightly older than 15, I know even less. From what I hear, they enjoy texting and talking about boys and for the right price, some of ‘em may sell you a few boxes of samoas or thin mints.

That lack of knowledge makes me completely unqualified to definitively say what this specific 15-year-old should or shouldn’t do with her life.

Two things I do know are that Ko isn’t the average 15-year-old girl and when she does turn professional, that half-million will feel like child’s play. She will be showered with sponsorship endorsement deals that will likely exceed any earnings she can receive through tournament winnings. Call that a problem within the game, but it’s also the nature of the beast.

And so whether Ko becomes a play-for-pay competitor tomorrow or next year or the year after or not until after she attends college, she’ll likely come out of it a very heavily compensated professional – even before she ever hits her first shot.

All of which leads to that second question.

Wie is 23 years old, and already nabbed two career LPGA victories before graduating Stanford University last year. And yet, her name is somehow synonymous with wasted youth. She was dubbed a failure before she was given an opportunity to succeed; she is largely considered an afterthought rather than one of the better players in the world.

That, of course, is because Wie was the poster child for the hyped athlete whose reputation exceeded her performance level. Multi-million-dollar contracts for a teenager will do that. So, too, will a media contingent desperate for the next superstar.

Despite a thought that will make the masses wince, Ko could do a lot worse than ending up like Wie. Which is to say, a well-rounded college graduate who is among the best in her chosen field with enough money in the bank to last her a few lifetimes.

When asked this week about advice for Ko, Wie rode the fence: “I have no advice for her. Turning pro or not turning pro, going to college, not going to college, it’s a very personal decision. It’s not something someone can say: `I think you should turn pro. I think you should stay an amateur. I think you should do this or that.’ It’s her life; it’s her career. When I turned pro, I really wanted to turn pro. That was a very personal decision for me. I really wanted to do that, and I have no regrets. I hope she makes the right decision for her. Whatever decision she makes, it has to really just be on her and what she wants to do.”

For now, Komania stands as a nation divided. Divided about Ko’s decision to turn professional or remain an amateur. Divided about whether she will become the next Michelle Wie. Divided about just how much of a bad thing that would be.

As for me, I’m not leaving my perch anytime soon. Ko has a major “it” factor and whether it materializes into her becoming an all-time great or struggling to live up to her 15-year-old self, I’m content to sit back and let the story develop in front of me.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.