World No. 1 Ko addressing biggest fears

By Randall MellApril 22, 2015, 11:50 pm

DALY CITY, Calif. – As unflappable as Lydia Ko appears, she isn’t fearless.

In fact, she could show you a list of her 10 biggest fears, because she has been delving into them, plucking them out into the light of day, shaking them around and analyzing them. She’s even writing about them.

Lest you think she’s become too meticulous preparing for championship golf, know that she’s just doing her homework. Ko has officially started her freshman year at Korea University. As one of her first assignments in a psychology course, she was asked to identify her 10 biggest fears and detail how she is addressing those fears.

In the shadow of the Lake Merced clubhouse at this week’s Swinging Skirts Classic, Ko chuckles when asked if she cares to share a fear or two that she is writing about. She has, by the way, one of the most engaging chuckles on tour, a laugh that makes you feel like you grew up next door to her.

“I’ll give you a funky one,” she says. “I’m scared of the dark.”


“Yes, it’s a big story in our family,” Ko says. “We had a two-story house in New Zealand, and our kitchen was upstairs. So, I was walking upstairs in the dark, and my dad had hung a white shirt on the door. For a second, I thought it was a ghost.”

Ko smiles remembering it, remembering how her family loves telling the story, too. She is asked just how young she was when this “event” made such a formidable impression. Maybe 5, 6 years old?

“No,” she says. “It wasn’t that long ago, actually. I think I’ve gotten even more scared of the dark since then.”

Ko is laughing at herself again. She says she is “really weird,” because she loves to watch the TV show “Criminal Minds,” even though it “creeps” her out. Of course, she isn’t weird, and the fact that she likes to watch scary shows reminds you that she really is a teenager, that she really is just 17 years old, for a couples days more, at least.

Though Ko isn’t legally an adult until Friday, when she celebrates her 18th birthday, she remains a marvel of precociousness. It isn’t just her game. It’s all she’s juggling inside and outside the ropes with such gracefulness.

Ko will tee it up Thursday at the Swinging Skirts Classic as the Rolex World No. 1 for the 11th consecutive week. She’s the defending champion here this week, seeking her 11th worldwide title, her third this year. And, oh yeah, she’s now officially going to college, a psychology major making her start with three classes this semester. She also is enrolled in an English course and is taking German as another language.

Psychology, though, is her real academic interest. That’s what got her thinking that maybe she’ll retire when she’s 30 and start a new career. When she enrolled, she told her agent, Michael Yim, that she was already thinking she would like to get a doctorate in the field.

“Obviously, education is important to her,” Yim said.

Ko sees that studying psychology isn’t just an investment in her future. There could be dividends long before she graduates. Doing her assignment, analyzing her fears, she rolled some golf into it. She even talked to her sports psychologist, Jim Loehr, about it.

“It was a really cool assignment, because it was something I could relate to,” Ko said. “I did some about my golf. I’ve been spending some time with Dr. Loehr, so I’ve been kind of mixing our sessions with my assignment.”

Some of Ko’s schooling is online, some straight from emailed assignments from professors. She worked out a special program to allow her to continue to compete while studying. So Yeon Ryu did the same thing at Yonsei University, earning a degree in sports business while she played professionally. Michelle Wie attended Stanford and continued to play on tour.

“There are a lot of assignments,” Ko said. “It isn’t easy.

“My professors send pages of data, sometimes 50 pages, and I’ve got to read them and write reports on them. I just had an assignment where I had to read two chapters of a book. They were 100 pages each, and I had to write reports.”

Ko works in her homework between fighting off Rolex No. 2 Inbee Park, No. 3 Stacy Lewis and a contingent of ambitious LPGA pros that includes the best rookie class to ever hit the LPGA.

There’s serious work on the range required to stay ahead of this era’s best. Last week, Ko met with swing coach David Leadbetter for a full day at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla. They worked for six hours fixing little problems that emerged in her last start, the ANA Inspiration two weeks ago.

Knowing she was the favorite to win the ANA, that she could make history becoming the youngest winner of a major championship, Ko struggled. She tied for 51st. It was her worst finish of the year, her worst finish in her 13 major championship starts.

Given her continued run of excellence, an off week was bound to come, but she’s world No. 1, and her game gets extra scrutiny. She came to the ANA having already won twice this year, having not failed to finish among the top 10 in 10 consecutive LPGA starts. The first-round 71 she put up at Mission Hills was her 29th consecutive round under par, equaling Annika Sorenstam’s modern record.

Ko, though, didn’t break par for the rest of the week. She was uncharacteristically errant off the tee. She hit just three of 14 fairways on Sunday, just six on Friday. She played too much from the rough to be a factor.

Though Ko didn’t blame fatigue, didn’t complain about playing her fifth event in six weeks with international travel in between, Leadbetter saw her tiring.

“The major came at the end of a long stretch,” Leadbetter said. “It came at the wrong time.

“I think that’s one of the things you learn as a player, to peak at the right time. I think she peaked too early.”

Ko is a range warrior. She loves to hit balls. It’s something Leadbetter has tried to temper, encouraging her to take her rest and enjoy it.

“There’s no question in my mind, she was really fatigued at ANA,” Leadbetter said. “I could tell the first part of the week. It wasn’t anything you could put your finger on. She was just a little off, her strategy was off. She made some mental errors. In the end, you don’t like making excuses, but you look at the stretch of tournaments she went through, the travel, what have you, it’s a lot of golf.”

And most all of it playing while in contention on weekends, when the pressure is greatest.

Leadbetter said he would like to see Ko make a change in her major championship preparation. He would like to see her take the week off before a major, or at least not play so much leading into one.

Ko did rest after the ANA Inspiration. Following a corporate outing the day after the championship, she stayed in Palm Springs with her mother, Tina. They went shopping. The next day, they drove to Los Angeles, where Ko spent the day with her friend, Danielle Kang. Upon returning home to Orlando, Ko said she slept all day. She spent the next day at hair salon and an Orlando Magic game before getting back to work with Leadbetter on the business of golf.

“Lydia really loves to work at it,” Leadbetter said. “She has an amazing work ethic, but I have to hand it to her, she actually paced herself pretty well last week. She didn’t kill herself. We tidied up a few things, and I would say she’s pretty much back on track, and I’m expecting her to play well.”

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They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

“I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

“I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.

Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

“A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

“I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

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Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

“I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.

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Woods (T-6) qualifies for WGC-Bridgestone via OWGR

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 7:43 pm

After narrowly missing out on a 15th major title at Carnoustie, Tiger Woods can take solace in the fact that he earned a return to Firestone Country Club by the thinnest of margins.

Woods was ranked No. 71 in the world entering The Open, and the top 50 in the rankings on both July 23 and July 30 will earn invites to the upcoming WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Despite missing a short birdie putt on the 72nd hole, Woods' three-way tie for sixth was enough to lift him to exactly 50th in the updated rankings.

It means that Woods will return to Akron in two weeks despite starting the year ranked No. 656. Firestone's South Course is the site of eight of Woods' 79 career PGA Tour victories, including his most recent worldwide victory back in 2013 when he won by seven shots. He has not played the invitation-only event since withdrawing in 2014 because of injury.

That's also the last time that Woods played in any of the four WGC events.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Woods had stated for several weeks that he hoped to return to Firestone this summer, given that the tournament will permanently shift to TPC Southwind in Memphis beginning next year. While he had the option to play next week's RBC Canadian Open to bolster his world ranking, Woods reiterated in recent weeks that his status for Akron would simply hinge on his performance in The Open.

"One of my goals is to get into Akron one last time before we leave there," Woods said at The Players Championship in May. "I've won there eight times and I'd love to get there with one more chance."

Speaking to reporters after a final-round 71, Woods explained that he thought he needed a top-4 finish to qualify and had fallen short. Instead, his 5-under total and best finish in a major since the 2013 Open at Muirfield proved to be just enough.

Woods will now take a week off before teeing it up in Akron Aug. 2-5, followed by an appearance the following week at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

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Spieth shrugs off his worst final round in a major

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth was the 54-hole co-leader of The Open. He was looking for his fourth career major and second consecutive claret jug. He also has been in the biggest victory drought of his career, extending back to last year at Royal Birkdale.

Spieth shot 5-over 76 - his worst final round in a major - failed to make a birdie - the first time he's failed to pick up any strokes in a major - and tied for ninth place, four shots behind Francesco Molinari. He got over it quickly.

“I’ve already gone through the frustration,” Spieth said, about 20 minutes after his round. “I’m kind of on acceptance now.”

Spieth said all week that he was burned out after having played so much golf in a stretch that ended two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship. The two-week rest did him good and he was eager to see where his game was after diligent practice at home in Texas.

Being in the hunt was a good enough result for Spieth this week.

“When you put yourself in position enough times, it goes your way sometimes, it doesn’t go your way sometimes,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Bogey on the fifth hole was followed by a nasty double bogey on the sixth when Spieth hit his drive right and flew his second shot into a gorse bush well short and right of the green. He took a drop, hit a wedge onto the green, then three-putted for double-bogey 7. He also made bogey on the 15th and 17th holes.

Some major disappointment stings more than others. This wasn’t one that Spieth was going to worry about. In fact, he’s more interested in looking forward to an important stretch that includes a WGC event, a major and a playoff run on the PGA Tour.

“My (putting) stroke is there, it’s back, which feels awesome,” Spieth said. “My game all together is back. I’ve had different parts of every single part of my game being at kind of a low point in my career, not all at the same time, but enough to where I haven’t really been able to compete. It’s all there, and it’s moving in the right direction.”