Ko, Park battle for millions, awards at LPGA finale

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2015, 4:35 pm

Lydia Ko vs. Inbee Park. 

They just might win all the big prizes at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.

It seems right that so many of the important awards and honors that will be handed out this week come down to these two, because their shadows have fallen hard over the season.

With her victory Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Park claimed her fifth LPGA title of the year, equaling Ko for most on tour. Park’s victories include two majors, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Ko’s includes her first major victory, the Evian Championship, where she closed with a final-round 63, maybe the greatest round ever played in a women’s major.

Ko and Park aren’t just 1-2 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. They’re 1-2 in every statistical category or competition that really matters to LPGA pros with Ko in front of Park in all of those except scoring.

With everything that’s at stake for these two this week, including the $1 million Race to the CME Globe jackpot, you could argue there’s more pressure on them than there was in any major this year.

There are also significant LPGA Hall of Fame ramifications in play.

While Park brings winning momentum to Tiburon Golf Club, Ko brings her own good vibes after taking off last week to gain some extra rest for the season finale. Ko won the CME Group Tour Championship last year and also claimed the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

Here’s an overview of what’s at stake in Naples:

Rolex Player of the Year Award – The LPGA doesn’t decide its Player of the Year by a vote among tour membership the way the PGA Tour does. The LPGA’s award is decided in a points-based competition.

Ko, 18, will be looking to make more history this week as she bids to become the youngest LPGA Player of the Year. She became the youngest Rolex world No. 1 back in February and the youngest woman to win a major in September at Evian.

Ko will be in the driver’s seat at Tiburon as she leads Park by three points in the Rolex Player of the Year race. A victory is worth 30 points with second place worth 12 points, third worth nine and points awarded down to a single point for 10th place.

Park, 27, is seeking to win her second POY award. She also claimed it in 2013, when she won the first three majors of the year. Park has to finish at least eighth this week to have a shot at the award. If she finishes eighth and Ko doesn’t record a top-10 finish, they’ll tie for the POY award.

Vare Trophy – With back-to-back birdies to close out a 64 in her victory Sunday in Mexico City, Park moved ahead of Ko with the LPGA’s best scoring average. With a 69.43 scoring average, Park is .016 points ahead of Ko.

Ko is seeking to become the youngest winner of the Vare Trophy while Park is seeking to win the award for the second time in her career. Park won her first in 2012.

Money title – Ko tops the money list with $2,758,417 in earnings. Park is second with $2,570,096. The first-place check Sunday is $500,000. Park won the money title in 2012 and ’13.

Race to the CME Globe – The $1 million jackpot goes to the winner of the season-long points race.

Ko won the CME Group Tour Championship last year and also claimed the CME Globe jackpot, walking away with $1.5 million, the biggest single payday in the history of women’s golf.

Only the top nine point earners coming into the CME Group Tour Championship have a shot at the $1 million jackpot. The points are being re-set for this week.

Here’s the top nine in points in the re-set:

1. Lydia Ko: 5,000
2. Inbee Park: 4,500
3. Stacy Lewis: 4,000
4. Sei Young Kim: 3,600
5. Lexi Thompson: 3,200
6. So Yeon Ryu: 2,800
7. Amy Yang: 2,400
8. Anna Nordqvist: 2,000
9. Shanshan Feng: 1,600

By virtue of ranking among the top three in points, Ko, Park and Lewis have guaranteed that they will win the $1 million jackpot if they win the CME Group Tour Championship.

A victory in Naples is worth 3,500 CME points, second place is worth 2,400 points, third is worth 2,200 points, fourth is worth 1,800 points ... with points awarded down to 10 for finishing 72nd.

Yang, Nordqvist and Feng must win the CME Group Tour Championship to have a shot at the jackpot. If Feng wins the tournament, she needs Ko to finish 55th or worse to claim the jackpot, Park to finish 10th or worse, Lewis to finish 7th or worse and on like that for the eight players ahead of her in the points standings.

Hall of Fame – Park’s victory Sunday earned her another LPGA Hall of Fame point, moving her to 26 HOF points, one short of qualifying for induction.

Park doesn’t even have to win this week to reach the 27-point requirement. She has three ways to get the point she needs. A victory is worth one point, the Rolex Player of the Year Award is worth one point and the Vare Trophy is worth one point.

If Park reaches 27 this week, she will still have some work to do to meet all the LPGA Hall of Fame criteria. She needs to be an active member of the LPGA for 10 full seasons to be eligible for induction. This is her ninth full season.

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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.”