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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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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”