Ko your average teen despite new pro status

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2013, 10:17 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko seems old for her age.

Sometimes, she appears to be 16 going on 30, but her mother knows better.

Tina, Ko’s mother, reminded us on the eve of her daughter’s debut as a professional at the CME Group Titleholders that Lydia really is still a teenager.

While Tina says Lydia isn’t very materialistic, she has been peppering her mother with a particular wish.

“She wants a puppy,” Tina said Wednesday after Ko’s news conference at Tiburon.

Before just about every tournament, Tina says, Lydia tries to strike a deal with her. If Lydia wins, she wants the puppy. Now, as a pro, she could buy it herself with the prize money.

“I say no,” Tina says.

Tina reminds Lydia that it wouldn’t be fair to the dog because they travel so much, and they’ll be traveling even more when Lydia begins her rookie season as a full LPGA member next year. And they can’t leave the dog with Lydia’s father, Hong, or older sister, Sura, back at their Auckland home in New Zealand.

“They have allergies to the hair,” Tina said.

It says something about Ko that with all the things she might have purchased with the $934,000 she left on the table as an amateur in 11 LPGA starts this year, she only pines for a puppy. As is Lydia’s nature, however, she doesn’t get upset about her mother’s veto.

“There isn’t a bad bone in Lydia’s body,” says Danielle Kang, who is Ko’s closest friend on the LPGA’s tour. “She’s just a very happy kind of person, very mature for her age. It shows in her golf. She plays so carefree, having fun. I kind of lost that when I turned pro.”

Ko might have left nearly a $1 million in LPGA winnings on the table this year, but she didn’t go without some spending money. Tina revealed that Lydia earned her allowance this past year playing golf.

“$5 a birdie,” Tina said.

Ko was asked if she knew what the first-place check is worth this week. It happens to be $700,000, the richest winner’s take in all of women’s golf.

“I wasn’t that interested,” Ko said. “Then my mom looked it up, and she said it was like, $500,000 last year and it’s gone even higher this year. I said, `Oh, so people who don’t come in first place will get less money this year.’”

While the tour kept this year’s CME Group Titleholders purse at $2 million, it substantially ratcheted up the winner’s share.

Naturally, with Ko playing as a pro for the first time, she’s being asked a lot about money this week. She won’t really know how playing for money affects her until she’s over a putt worth a lot of it.

“As a rookie next year, I think that will be the year I learn the most,” Ko said. “Being a professional and being an amateur is totally different, and next year I’ll have to learn a lot. This year, I think I only played one or two tournaments back to back, so that’s a whole different thing where I’ll need to play three or four in a row.

“Next year, I’ll need to perform well, but it’s more about learning and getting more experience.”

The Kos don’t seem in any rush to cash in on the financial opportunities there for Lydia. Though Ko visited Callaway last week to test equipment, there is no pending deal. She also visited TaylorMade and is interested in testing Fourteen, the Japanese clubs. The Kos also have yet to choose an agent or strike an endorsement deal.

“She’s still wearing amateur clothing,” Ko said.

In fact, Ko was wearing a New Zealand Institute of Golf cap in her news conference Wednesday at Tiburon. That’s where her coach, Guy Wilson, is based, and it’s where she practices a lot when she’s home.

There is a new logo on Ko’s bag, Puma, but that’s only because Puma replaced Srixon as the funding sponsor for New Zealand Golf, the national foundation that supported Ko’s amateur run.

Ko travels only with her mother, Tina, a former middle school English teacher in South Korea, where Lydia was born before the family moved to New Zealand 10 years ago. Lydia’s father, Hong, takes over the parental golf role when Lydia is home practicing.

“Her father is with her from morning till darkness at home,” Tina said.

Hong ran a small business, but Tina said it failed in recent years. The couple have devoted themselves to Lydia’s career, with New Zealand Golf’s help. The national foundation has funded the Kos' travel and golf needs.

Tina and Hong are married, but Tina kept her maiden name, Hyon. Lydia’s mother and father don’t play golf. Neither does Sura, 24, Lydia’s older sister. Sura studied architecture but works at the Auckland airport now.

“Lydia and Sura are very close,” Tina said. “Lydia calls Sura her angel.”

Lydia is also very close with her parents, two very different personalities. Tina says Hong’s intensity rises and falls from morning to night, something Lydia teases him about. Asked where Lydia’s unflappable disposition comes from, Tina smiled. She said Lydia gets her even-temperament from her, but to Lydia’s dismay, she also passed on her looks to Lydia.

“My husband is good looking, much better than me,” Tina said. “My oldest daughter, she’s really beautiful like her father. Lydia says, mom, `Why is my sister much more beautiful than me?’ I say, `Sorry, Lydia, it’s my fault.’”

Hong is with his daughter whenever she practices back home in New Zealand. He has never traveled to the United States for any of her LPGA starts. He doesn’t speak English. There is a small Korean community in Auckland where he doesn’t really have to speak English. Lydia speaks Korean with her father.

The Kos revealed Wednesday that they are looking for an American base to live. They may purchase an apartment, but likely not until next year, at the earliest.

“We are looking in Florida, Texas, and a couple other places where there’s no income tax,” Ko said.

Ko got a big laugh in the media room when she revealed part of her conversation with Phil Mickelson while she tested equipment at Callaway last week.

“Phil mentioned that one of his biggest mistakes was staying where the taxes are high,” Ko said.

Ko calls Mickelson an idol, and when asked her career ambitions, she pointed to Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa.

“I want to be remembered like Annika or Lorena,” Ko said. “They did so much for the LPGA, the women’s game. One of the big things is I want to be known quite well to the spectators for being very nice and very friendly. I obviously want to be the world’s best golfer in the future.”

Ko’s first steps as a pro to that end come Thursday at Tiburon.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''

Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.