Ko weighing pro options

By Randall MellFebruary 15, 2013, 7:26 pm

Lydia Ko infuses a dose of intrigue into the LPGA’s season opener in Australia this weekend.

While the 15-year-old amateur sensation appears to be singularly focused on winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open for her fourth professional title in 54 weeks, there are distractions with larger questions building.

When will she turn pro? Should she turn pro? Would she be eligible for LPGA membership?

Ko was asked about her future after posting a 4-under-par 69 in the second round that positions her to play in the final pairing Saturday at Royal Canberra. She will tee it up there with Mariajo Uribe, the 36-hole leader at 15-under 131, and with former Rolex world No. 1 Jiyai Shin, who is tied with Ko at 132.

Ko was asked Friday if it’s true she was planning to turn professional next year.

“We really haven’t made decisions yet, so, yeah, I can’t really say right now,” Ko said.

Two weeks ago, on the eve of defending her title at the New South Wales Open, Ko addressed the topic.

“I want to turn pro when I think I’m ready and my coaching staff thinks I’m ready,” Ko told the Daily Telegraph of Australia. “There’s no point going there when I don’t think I’m ready, and I’m not that confident. There will be a point when I think I’m ready.”

Ko’s coach, Guy Wilson, told Fairfax Media he thinks the time will be right in another year. Clearly, the Ko team is weighing options.

“Realistically, she’s probably going to look to turn pro next year, only because the opportunities now are pretty obvious,” Wilson said. “Wasting two years at college could be a disadvantage.”

Ko has left more than $470,000 on the table retaining her amateur status in professional events. She left $300,000 on the table winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open last summer. More than that, though, there’s a question of development at the amateur level. How much is there left to learn playing against amateurs when she’s beating the world’s best pros? As mature and poised as Ko is, there are also considerations about how tour life affects social development.

Ko isn’t eligible to collect the winner’s check this weekend if she wins the Women’s Australian Open. She would have had to declare herself a pro before the event began to collect any winnings.

LPGA rules stipulate that a player must be at least 18 to become a tour member. To gain membership before turning 18, a player must petition the LPGA commissioner for a waiver of the tour’s age restriction.

Ko turns 16 on April 24.

Lexi Thompson turned pro at 15 years and four months, Michelle Wie just days before her 16th birthday.

Thompson and Wie both played the LPGA as non-member pros before earning membership status. Thompson became an LPGA member when she was still 16, after petitioning for a waiver following her victory at the Navistar Classic. She made her rookie debut as an LPGA member just days before her 17th birthday last year. Wie was 19 when she earned LPGA membership through Q-School.

What are Ko’s professional options?

• Ko could turn pro anytime she likes. She merely has to declare herself a professional. As soon as she begins accepting payment for her performance, or accepting endorsement offers, she will be a pro.

• As a pro, Ko wouldn’t be automatically exempt into any professional event she wants to play. That’s the challenge in turning pro. There are limitations on access for non-members of the LPGA’s tour.

• If Ko wanted to turn pro and play LPGA events, she would have to do so as a non-member, or apply for a waiver of the LPGA’s rule requiring members to be at least 18. With a waiver, Ko could try to earn LPGA membership through Q-School, or by winning a tour event, or by earning the equivalent of top-40 money on the season-ending money list. Only money Ko won as a pro would count toward that “equivalent” non-member money list.

• As a non-member of the LPGA, Ko would be limited to playing six tour events on sponsor invites. By qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open and Ricoh Women’s British Open, she could play those events without them counting against her six sponsor invites. Ko gets into those two majors by virtue of winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur last year. She also can play her way into LPGA events through Monday qualifiers. If she turns pro, there would be no limit to how many Monday qualifiers she could play as a non-member. As an amateur, if she makes into the field through Monday qualifying, it counts against her limit of six appearances on sponsor invites.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: