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What's gone wrong with Ko this season?

By Randall MellSeptember 7, 2017, 12:19 am

Lydia Ko’s struggles this summer have moved beyond trying to win for the first time in more than a year.

Her battle of late is more against the cut line than contenders.

Even Ko, the determined optimist, is perplexed by this.

Ko tees it up at the Indy Women in Tech Championship this week conceding her confidence is challenged in the first prolonged swoon of her remarkable career.

“I think it would be a lie to say I’ve been positive all the way through,” Ko said Wednesday. “There have been times when I have said, ‘Man, I don’t know why I have not been playing as well.’ It’s a big learning curve, where it’s not always going to be a high. Fortunately, for me, the last few years I’ve had so many highs. It’s been going in that direction where I’ve not really stumbled on a rock.”

Ko was the most accomplished teen phenom the women’s game had ever seen, but things haven’t come as easily to her since she turned 20 in April. Actually, her slip in form began even before that, with some struggles beginning late last year.

Ko, who won 14 LPGA titles as a teenager, made sweeping changes before coming into this season, beginning the year with a new caddie, new equipment and a new coach.

The transition has been tougher than she expected.

Ko arrived in Indianapolis this week off a missed cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, an event she won as a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old. It was her second missed cut in three starts, a stretch that was close to being three straight MCs. She made the cut on the number at the Ricoh Women’s British Open before heading to Canada.

Ko has seven top-10 finishes this year, but none since the start of summer, none over her last seven starts.



After missing just one cut in her first 94 LPGA starts, Ko has now missed three in her last 14 starts.

What’s happening?

“I just haven’t been able to put all the pieces together,” Ko said. “In Canada, I hit the ball really well the first day and struggled with the putter. On the second day, I wasn’t hitting it good. That’s why it’s hard to put it all together, when not everything is there.

“It’s about balance, and more a confidence thing.”

Ko’s struggles have raised questions about whether she left something behind making so many changes in her push to improve when she already ruled atop the women’s game.

For 85 consecutive weeks, Ko reigned as Rolex world No. 1, before losing that top spot in June. Her rankings slide continued this week with a move down to No. 8.

Gary Gilchrist, Ko’s swing coach, believes Ko’s challenge is about comfort and confidence. When a player isn’t comfortable, confidence is affected.

While working through all these changes this year, Ko seems to have become more analytical than is her nature.

“Lydia has never been analytical about any part of her game,” Gilchrist said. “She is probably the most natural player, who just used her feel, and went out and played with it. I think the biggest thing for her is to go out again and just play, without too much thinking.”

Gilchrist has a reputation for getting players comfortable by keeping things simple, but Karen Stupples, the Golf Channel analyst and 2004 Women’s British Open champion, believes that hasn’t been easy amid all the changes. She sees Ko struggling to get comfortable through all the transitions this year.

“It takes time to adjust to all those changes,” Stupples said. “In the process of adjusting, she’s lost some confidence.”

Before the 2014 season, Ko’s parents moved her away from the longtime coach of her New Zealand youth, Guy Wilson. They steered her to David Leadbetter, asking that he turn her fade into a draw. Leadbetter did that, and Ko ascended to Rolex world No. 1 under him. They won 14 times around the world together.

Ko’s swing eventually evolved into Leadbetter’s A-Swing, but Lydia’s father, Gil Hong, began moving her away from that movement late last year, even while Lydia was still supposed to be working with Leadbetter. The Kos eventually split with Leadbetter at the end of last season, with Lydia going to work with Gilchrist, who subtly moved Ko back to a more one-plane swing, keeping her draw as her primary ball flight.

While making swing changes with Gilchrist at year’s start, Ko signed a new equipment deal with PXG, transitioning to all its clubs.

“Lydia hasn’t known anything but success in her short career,” Stupples said. “So for her to take on all these dramatic changes, it probably didn’t seem too daunting to her, at the start, because everything has always come so easy for her. She probably thought, ‘I can handle it. It’s no big deal,’ not realizing how much she was actually taking on.”

Stupples says regardless how good new equipment can be, there is a challenge dialing in changes.

“Getting used to new clubs, being fitted, trying new drivers, new irons, that takes away time from the short game,” Stupples said. “You have to take time hitting more full shots, because you’re trying to get used to new clubs and the swing changes. The short game starts to suffer.”

Stupples said wedge play can be the most difficult transition to new clubs, because there’s so much more feel involved. She sees a drop off in Ko’s short game as a real factor in her slip in form.

Ko ranks 23rd on tour in scoring average at 70.24. She was second in scoring last year (69.60) and second the year before that (69.44).

“Lydia’s struggling to score like she used to,” Gilchrist said. “For me, when you want to score better, you start putting more pressure on your putting.”

Ko is sixth on tour in putts per greens in regulation this year, but she has slipped to 18th in putting average. She was first in both putting categories last year.

Maybe the most overlooked change Ko has made was to her putting this season. Before this year, she putted with a conventional grip for longer putts, then moved to left-hand low for shorter putts. She abandoned left-hand low under Gilchrist, and she also changed the path of her stroke, moving away from the push stroke she grew up with.

This summer, Ko made more changes, bringing in a new putting coach, Gareth Raflewski, who also works with Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn. And she moved back to left-hand low in her last start, at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.

“It’s not the same left-hand low I used to have,” Ko told GolfChannel.com. “I’m trying to find the most comfortable grip that will produce the best putts.”

Gilchrist said comfort is a large factor in Ko holing more putts.

“Lydia’s putting stroke is actually better now, technically, than it has been in the past,” Gilchrist said. “She’s done amazing work on it, but it’s funny how things work. When you are comfortable and confident, you might not have the best stroke, but the ball is goes in. And while you can be more technically sound, if you aren’t comfortable and confident, it doesn’t go in.”

Ko’s driving stats have actually improved over last year. Her iron play isn’t as sharp as it was two years ago. She ranked second in greens in regulation on tour in 2015, slipped to 31st last year and is 47th this year.

“Her iron play hasn’t been up to her standard,” Gilchrist acknowledged.

But, Gilchrist said, ball striking was never what set Ko apart.

“I’ve always said, she’s a genius, that her mind is her real strength, as a player,” Gilchrist said. “Her strength never had to be ball striking.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin wasn’t surprised Ko would encounter challenges this year, but she believes Ko will work through them.

“Watching the No. 1 player in the world go through such massive changes was very interesting to me,” said Rankin, a Golf Channel analyst. “To be where she was in the world, and change everything, whether you are aware of it or not, has to be a bit of a confidence shaker.

“If you come out the first two or three weeks of the season and set the world on fire, it goes unnoticed, but when you don’t, there’s that little bit of doubt that hadn’t been there before, and now it seems to be there consistently, and it grows.”

World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu needed almost a full year to get comfortable with the overhaul she made after going to Cameron McCormick as her coach before the 2016 season. Those changes are paying off big this year.

“Lydia is so dedicated,” Gilchrist said. “She puts in all the time and work, and she has a great support system in her parents and her sister, Sura. I think it’s just a matter of being more patient, and letting it happen, instead of trying to make it happen. It’s trusting and believing in what you’re doing, and sticking with it, until you’re comfortable and it feels good.”

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”