Ko will face Korea's U.S. Women's Open dominance

By Randall MellJuly 9, 2016, 3:13 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Lydia Ko is chasing the favorites this weekend.

She was chasing the moment she set foot at CordeValle Golf Club, long before she hit her first tee shot.

As the Rolex world No. 1, Ko may be the favorite just about every time she tees it up, but not this week, not at a U.S. Women’s Open.

The South Koreans have become the players to beat at this event, and so it’s no surprise that it's setting up that way yet again going into this weekend.

Ko rebounded Friday from her sluggish start with a 6-under-par 66, vaulting her up the leaderboard. She went from T-52 at day’s start to a tie for fourth place, three shots back.

All three players ahead of Ko are South Koreans.

Sung Hyun Park went out Friday and shot 66 to move into the lead at 8-under overall.

She’s two shots ahead of both Amy Yang (71) - twice a runner up in this championship, including last year, when she lost out to In Gee Chun - and Mirim Lee (74), who was the first round leader after opening with a 64.

The South Koreans are the most dominant force in women’s golf, and there’s something about the U.S. Women’s Open that brings out the very best in them.

The Koreans are in weekend position to win this championship for the fifth time in the last six years, for the seventh time in the last nine.

Se Ri Pak - who bid farewell Friday, playing her 19th and final U.S. Women’s Open - is responsible for turning this championship into the stage Koreans have best used to introduce themselves to the world. Pak missed the cut but left this stage in good hands with young stars continuing through the door she opened.

Americans didn’t know much about Chun, already a star in South Korea, until she won last year. Like Chun, So Yeon Ryu won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011 before she was even an LPGA member. Inbee Park won her first LPGA title at the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen in 2008.

And now here comes Sung Hyun Park, a budding star on the Korean LPGA Tour who Americans don’t know much about.

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Ko knows her, though. So does Lexi Thompson.

Park, 22, got their attention at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall when she shot 62 in the first round of her first LPGA event. She did so in spectacular fashion, striping tee shots past the big-hitting Thompson, who won the event but left with a lasting impression of the young Korean star.

“Amazing putter, great ball striker, and she hits it long,” Thompson said.

Ko tied for fourth that week, two shots behind Thompson and a shot behind Park.

“This is my first time in a USGA tournament,” Park said through a translator. “Coming to the tournament, I didn't even think about winning. I would like more experience with the USGA and LPGA, but I'm trying to enjoy this tournament. That's why I am just more comfortable, don't even think about the winning. I just enjoy the play.”

Ko won honors in the week’s marquee grouping, outplaying world No. 2 Brooke Henderson and No. 4 Thompson on both days. Henderson (71) and Thompson (73) both made the cut by a shot. Ko is eight shots better than each of them through two days.

“It was a really cool group,” Ko said. “I was super excited for this pairing.

“Brooke has been playing great and coming off a win in Portland, and Lexi has been playing great this year, the highest ranked American player. So we were expecting big fans, and fans came out to watch.”

Ko, 19, is seeking to win a tour-best fourth title this year and to her third major in the last four played. She won the Evian Championship at the end of last year to become the youngest winner of a major at 18 years, 4 months and 20 days old and then took this year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.

“This would be one of the highest tournaments to win,” Ko said. “This is the biggest championship in the U.S. It would be a tournament that I would love to win. It takes a lot of great golf, a lot of patience to win this championship, but there’s a lot of golf to be played. So I don't really want to get ahead of myself.”

Henderson, 18, said she relished playing in a marquee grouping but she had to remind herself there were a lot of other strong players to beat this week.

“It’s a lot of fun, to be in that position,” Henderson said. “It was really cool, playing with two of the best players in the world, the No. 1 player in the world. It’s always a lot of fun to be in that position, to have the cameras, to have the attention. It always makes golf a lot more fun when you have a lot of people cheering for you and following along, but you definitely have to remember there are 155 other players good enough to be here, quality players. Maybe I thought I was a little too good. I don’t know what happened the last couple of days. I kind of got a reality check.”

Henderson wasn’t sure she would make the cut when she signed her scorecard but like Thompson was optimistic.

“Hopefully, I’ll have two more rounds of golf to redeem myself.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”