Ryu making her own legend

By Randall MellMay 18, 2017, 11:30 pm

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – So Yeon Ryu can’t seem to escape Lexi Thompson’s shadow.

Thompson was all the buzz in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Kingsmill Championship, skydiving from 10,000 feet into the first fairway before her tee time. Strapped to a Navy SEAL in a tandem jump, Thompson dramatically promoted her new charity benefitting the families of wounded and fallen special ops forces.

Come Thursday morning, Thompson was almost immediately the story here again, soaring to the top of the leaderboard with a 6-under-par 65.

Ryu played right in front of Thompson, where she couldn’t help hearing the celebrations that Thompson was setting off with five consecutive birdies coming home.

Ryu shot 70.

Behind the bleachers at round’s end, as Ryu answered a reporter’s questions, Thompson passed a walkway into scoring, drawing the clamor of adoring fans who wanted the American star’s autograph.

It seems like it’s been like this for Ryu since she beat Thompson six weeks ago in that controversial ending to the ANA Inspiration.

Ryu won her second major championship that day, but she did so in an awkward ending with so much of the focus on Thompson and the four-shot penalty Thompson was assessed on the back nine of that final round.

In the rules debate that ensued, Ryu never got the credit or acclaim a major champion usually enjoys.

How has the fallout affected Ryu?

“She’s been accepting,” said Cameron McCormick, her swing coach. “So Yeon is the sweetest person in the world.”

McCormick knew that before he watched Ryu approach Thompson on the driving range at the Texas Shootout three weeks ago, the first event Ryu and Thompson played together since the ANA. McCormick watched Ryu hug Thompson before heading off to warm up for the first round.

“Lexi wrote something very nice about me in her Instagram right after the ANA,” Ryu said, explaining the hug. “She congratulated me and said she didn’t want anything that happened to take away from my victory. I told her that probably wasn’t easy to write after a loss, and I told her I really appreciated that. I also told her I thought she handled herself very well afterward.”



Ryu says she understood the uproar that followed the ANA, but she’s human, and it was difficult knowing her story wasn’t being told, that the risky overhaul she made to her game wasn’t going to be detailed or fully appreciated.

“It was such an uncommon situation, so I understood, but I’m not going to lie,” Ryu said. “There wasn’t a lot of joy, seeing a different story being told. But, you know, I thought about Lexi, about the heartbreaking situation she was in, and I thought about things differently.

“I decided, let’s win another major, and I’ll make my story later.”

Tom Watson, Ryu’s caddie, said the uproar that followed the ANA, the debate over the two-shot penalty Thompson got for incorrectly making her ball in the third round and the additional two-shot penalty she got for signing an incorrect scorecard, left Ryu briefly wondering if Ryu really deserved to win.

“The first few days after, I think it was hard for her,” Watson said. “She struggled thinking maybe she didn’t really win, but Lexi lost. We talked about that, and she came to understand that she played some great golf over the last five holes that day, when anything could have happened.

“We talked about the shots she hit under pressure, the putts she holed under pressure, and she started believing she deserved to win.”

Ryu’s victory didn’t come as a surprise to the people closest to her. Before the 2016 season, Ryu left her long-time coach Ian Triggs to go to work with McCormick, who also works with Jordan Spieth.

Ryu didn’t tweak her swing under McCormick.

“She made massive changes,” Watson said.

Ryu assigned Watson the task of finding a new coach after the 2015 season, and he led her to McCormick.

McCormick immediately reshaped Ryu’s takeaway, making her swing flatter, less upright.

“Before, she had an almost straight-out wrist cock, early in the takeaway, with the face of the club going open right away, with the toe in the air when her hands were hip high,” Watson said. “Now, the club face is more neutral.”

Watson said the face stays more on plane with Ryu’s spine tilt throughout the swing.

“She feels like she’s very, very closed, going back with her arms and shoulders,” Watson said.

Ryu says she likes the new ball flight McCormick created.

“Before, my ball flight was way too high,” Ryu said.

Ryu said McCormick created a foundation that has added to the repertoire of shots she can hit, that he has made imagination a new weapon in her arsenal of shots.

“When I see Cameron, he never asks me to hit a straight shot,” Ryu said. “He asks me to hit a lot of different shots, to hit a push draw, a draw, a fade, to hit it high, to hit it low. He asks me to hit so many different kinds of shots. He’s given me more options to hit shots.

“It’s a totally different swing.”

Ryu was one of the best ball strikers in the game when she went to McCormick, but Watson believed she was too one-dimensional with her ball flight.

“So Yeon is a lot more creative now, and that’s probably the biggest change in her game,” Watson said.

The risks Ryu took to make these changes is the story that wasn’t told when she won the year’s first major.

Back when she first started working with McCormick, Ryu struggled getting comfortable.

“She wasn’t certain it was the right thing to do,” Watson said.

Ryu was at a crossroads, but she committed so thoroughly to the swing changes that she moved to Dallas to be near McCormick, who is based there.

Through seven starts this year, Ryu has a victory and two second-place finishes. She hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any of those starts.

Ryu leads the tour in scoring (68.57), money winnings ($885,456) and greens in regulation (81 percent).

Ryu is also one of the best total drivers in the women’s game, ranking 24th in driving distance (261 yards per drive) and 36th in driving accuracy. She’s 16 yards longer per drive than she was two-and-a-half years ago.

“She seems even longer than that,” Watson said.

Ryu says there’s also more creativity in her short game. Ian Baker Finch teams with McCormick on Ryu’s putting.

Mostly, Ryu says she has more belief in her game.

The ANA victory was Ryu’s fourth career LPGA title, her first in two-and-a-half years. She won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011, before she was an LPGA member, and there was pressure in her South Korean homeland to validate it with another major.

“Sometimes, when you can’t win, you feel like you’re a failure,” Ryu said. “So, I really had to do some talking to myself, to tell myself, `You’re not a failure, you’re just in this process of going from good to great.’”

Ryu opened this year feeling good about her game, and even better about it when she finished second in her season debut at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I definitely felt like a win was coming, that it was just a matter of time, but I didn’t want to push myself too much,” Ryu said.

McCormick’s work with Ryu has been as much about building confidence as it has been about building a swing.

“Results will almost always follow belief,” McCormick said. “What you believe to be true will almost always become true if it isn’t already true.”

So what Ryu believes about winning the ANA matters.

“It validated the first major,” McCormick said. “It validates all the hard work a player puts in, all the time you spend in the mind, so to speak, figuring out the infinitesimal gains in precision that are necessary to compete on the world stage.”

Ryu isn’t looking to validate yet another major now, but she would like to win a third so she can better share the story behind what it takes to win one.

 

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”



When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”

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Finau plays with 'idol' Tiger, but don't get excited

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 5:05 pm

ATLANTA – This has been a season of firsts for Tony Finau.

He played his first Masters – after severely injuring his ankle, no less – and all four of the World Golf Championship events for the first time. He also made his first Ryder Cup team.

On Tuesday at East Lake there was another first. He played a nine-hole practice round with Tiger Woods.


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“It was pretty special for me because it's the first time I ever played with him in a practice round, tournament, whatever the case may be,” Finau said. “I've been on Tour four years now, and that's the first time I ever had the chance to play with him. Again, my golfing idol. That was a special day for me yesterday to play with him, pick his brain a little bit, and just get to know him a little bit better.”

Woods and Finau played with Bryson DeChambeau, who has become the popular choice to be a potential partner for Woods at next week’s Ryder Cup. Some have speculated that Finau could partner with Phil Mickelson in Paris, but Tuesday’s practice round created the scenario of another rookie possibly playing with Woods. Finau seemed to quickly dismissed that idea.

“I don't see a lot of potential playing with Tiger,” Finau said.

Celia Barquin Arozamena Iowa State University athletics

Pros share condolences for slain Iowa State player

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2018, 5:01 pm

As details continue to emerge surrounding the murder of 22-year-old Celia Barquin Arozamena, multiple professional athletes took to Twitter to share their condolences for the former Iowa State star.

Arozamena was found dead Monday at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa, where she was playing a round of golf by herself when she was allegedly attacked by a nearby homeless man. Twenty-two-year-old Collin Daniel Richards is charged with first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing Arozamena and leaving her body in a pond on the golf course.

Arozamena was the 2018 Big XII champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year, and she was a native of Spain. As the Iowa State community mourned her death, fellow Spanish athletes shared their thoughts, including former Masters champ Sergio Garcia and NBA star Pau Gasol:

Arozamena's amateur accomplishments extended beyond the collegiate setting, as she also won the European Amateur Championship in July. Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tweeted a photo she took with Arozamena at a previous event, calling the incident "horrendous."

Iowa State is planning to honor Arozamena Saturday during their home football game against Akron, with the team wearing "CBA" decals bearing her initials.

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'It's been fun': Tiger embracing this year's moral victory

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 3:52 pm

ATLANTA – The aura of Tiger Woods has always demanded that his accomplishments, or failures, be graded on a unique scale. When your only competition is a record book and a guy named Jack, normal benchmarks just won’t cut it.

When you’ve won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour titles, there’s no such thing as a moral victory.

Well, there didn’t used to be. But this is different.

It was a year ago next week that Woods first offered an unfiltered glimpse into the state of his body and his game following fusion surgery on his lower back in April 2017.

“The pain's gone, but I don't know what my golfing body is going to be like, because I haven't hit a golf shot yet,” he said at last September’s Presidents Cup. “So that's going to take time to figure that out and figure out what my capabilities are going forward, and there's no rush.”

As timelines go, it’s telling that it was shortly after those matches in New Jersey that Woods reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ask about the possibility of being the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019. With Tiger, it’s always about reading between the lines, but it’s a relatively straightforward message that less than a year ago he was contemplating life as a captain, not necessarily a player.

Tiger has spoken often this year about the uncertainty he felt entering this season, about the unknowns that awaited him during this most recent comeback. He’s even suggested that for the first time in his career, he began a season with dramatically tempered expectations.

That outlook began to change, albeit slowly at first, following a pedestrian West Coast swing that included a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

“The beginning of the year was such an unknown, I didn't know if I would be able to make it to Florida and to play the Florida Swing. Let's just start out at Torrey and see how it goes,” Woods explained on Wednesday at the Tour Championship.

He not only remained upright throughout the spring, but he also showed flashes of his former self with a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship.

Unlike Justin Thomas, who studiously thumbs a lengthy list of goals into his cell phone each season, Woods keeps his vision board largely to himself. Nonetheless, there have been milestones throughout the season that have checked the right boxes.

For starters, Tiger will finish this season with 19 starts, the most he’s played since 2012. In fact, just once since 2000 has he played more than 19, which is as good a sign as any that his health, if not his game, is up to the task.


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His performance on the course has also steadily progressed. Although he’s not won since 2013, and that will always be the standard by which he’s judged, his world ranking tracks quite steeply in one direction. When he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event in December, he was 650th in the world. Before the season’s first major, he cracked the top 100. Last month, his runner-up showing at the PGA Championship moved him back into the top 30.

That progression paved the way for a return to the World Golf Championship at Firestone and this week’s Tour Championship.

“Just to have that opportunity to be able to add a tournament, I thought I was going to be taking tournaments away, but to have added a couple and to have earned my way into Akron, I look at this year more as I've exceeded a lot of my expectations and goals because so much of it was an unknown,” he said.

This week’s start at East Lake is particularly rewarding considering it’s been five year’s since he played the finale. To Tiger, the Tour Championship is a straightforward meritocracy.

“What I've missed most about playing this event is that in order to get into this event, I would have earned my way being part of the top 30 most consistent players of the year and the best players of the year,” he said. “No exemptions into this event. Either you get here or you don't. It's a very hard line.”

There’s still plenty of work to do. On Wednesday, he talked of getting all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place at the same time, something that’s been an issue even during his best weeks.

The scale is always going to be wildly tilted when it comes to Tiger and for many that’s not going to change. It’s the price he must pay for unparalleled success. But for Woods and those around him, it’s impossible and frankly unfair to grade this season based entirely on wins and loses.

In sports, you are what your record says you are. Maybe when Woods calls it a career, 2018 will be nothing more than a bridge to bigger and better things. But as Tiger took mental inventory of his 22nd full season on Tour on Wednesday, the smile that spread across his face went well beyond the standings and statistics – “It’s been fun,” he beamed.