Ko going for first major title

By Will GrayJune 18, 2014, 9:24 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – If you ask her, Lydia Ko will peer from behind the thick frames of her glasses and tell you that she’s just like every other teenage girl.

She hates the sound of the alarm clock in the morning. She had a “mental breakdown” upon meeting some of the top PGA Tour players Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. At age 17, she’s just trying to have some fun playing a game.

True statements, sure. But as Ko continues her ascent through the rankings, they also belie the main point: She’s one of the best golfers in the world, regardless of age.

High-level women's golf is getting younger. Lexi Thompson served notice of that fact when she won a major this year at age 19, but Ko is the poster child for the movement. As a 15-year-old amateur, she won an LPGA event, then successfully defended that title in Canada a year later.

After turning pro last fall, she has shown no growing pains while adjusting to the play-for-pay scene, and Wednesday sounded like a player blissfully ignorant of the stakes as she looks to capture her first major title.

“It’s already June and I’ve turned pro like eight months ago, and it kind of feels like yesterday,” Ko said. “Just having so much fun and just being grateful that I can play on the tour at the age of 17 is just the best thing.”

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Golfers often struggle with the question of whether success begets confidence or if it’s the other way around, but it’s not an issue right now for Ko, who has plenty of both. Already a winner this year at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, she enters this week at No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, poised to become the youngest ever to reach No. 1 should she leave Pinehurst with the U.S. Women's Open trophy.

It’s a label that the Kiwi is still getting used to wearing.

“I don’t feel like the world No. 3,” Ko said. “When people will tell me that and ask me stuff about it, then I go, oh, yeah, I am. But me, I just feel like a normal teenager and think that’s what makes it more fun and exciting.”

Teens have been bursting onto the scene in women’s golf for years. Nancy Lopez tied for second as an 18-year-old amateur at the 1975 U.S. Women’s Open, and Juli Inkster, who is making her 35th and likely final Open appearance this week, first played the event at age 15.

But few if any have risen as far – or as fast – as has Ko.

“I think I play with Lydia every week out on tour, it seems like,” said Paula Creamer, who won her first LPGA event at age 18. “It’s crazy, I’m 27 years old and I’m a veteran. I came out when I was 18 and it was like unheard of.”

At age 50, Laura Davies has watched the women’s game trend younger, with Ko now leading that charge.

“Although Lydia is not big, she still hits at it and gets after it and hits it,” Davies said. “I think that’s why people want to watch the women play now, because it’s more dynamic.”

Whether rolling to a U.S. Amateur title in 2012 or winning three LPGA tournaments since, Ko has time and again made a difficult game seem easy. Beneath the teenage smile and placid demeanor, though, she admits to possessing a strong drive to succeed.

“I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else probably could,” she said.

Ko nearly got her first major title last year at the Evian Championship, when she finished second behind Suzann Pettersen. It was her final major start as an amateur and concluded a two-year stretch in which she finished as low amateur at six of seven majors.

Now she prepares to begin her third U.S. Women’s Open, where she is among the favorites, and she did not hesitate to make her aspirations for a major title known.

“It would be the top,” Ko said. “Everybody strives to win tournaments, and the majors are the biggest out of them all.”

With fans, media and the world’s best players gathered this week at Pinehurst, it’s a stage on which most 17-year-olds would likely wilt under the pressure.

Then again, most 17-year-olds wouldn’t have played their way here in the first place.

While Ko says there is no single secret for her success, she did reveal a game plan so delightfully simple that it could only have been crafted by a teen.

“I don’t have to think about everything else,” she said. “All I need to think about is just hitting the white ball into the hole.”

It’s a plan that has certainly worked so far.

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Watch: Hahn slam-dunks ace on 11th hole

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:20 pm

There are aces, and there are slam-dunk aces. No question which one this one by James Hahn on the 154-yard 11th hole was.

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Els' nephew Rebula wins Amateur Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 23, 2018, 7:05 pm

Ernie Els is one proud uncle.

His nephew, Jovan Rebula, won the Amateur Championship on Saturday at Royal Aberdeen to become the first South African to capture the title since Bobby Cole in 1966.

Rebula, a junior at Auburn, will join his famous uncle in Carnoustie next month for The Open. He also will get invites to the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Rebula defeated Ireland's Robin Dawson, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final.

"It’s unreal," Rebula said. "It’s really something that is hard to describe. I feel like many have been in this position before but it’s an unreal feeling. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet but hopefully tomorrow morning I can wake up and I will feel a little different."

Rebula received plenty of texts from Els throughout the week, and the encouragement paid off. Rebula opened a 1-up lead after 18 holes, and he extended his advantage by winning the 26th and 27th holes. He was 5 up with six to play before finally closing out Dawson on the 16th hole with an up-and-down from the bunker.

"It’s been a long week and especially today," Rebula said. "I should have finished maybe a couple of holes earlier, but it’s been awesome. A very tiring week. I’m standing here right now and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through me."

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Squirrel gets Rory's round off to a rocky start

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 6:42 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy’s third round at the Travelers Championship got off to a peculiar start before he even hit a shot.

McIlroy had just been introduced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands and was ready to unload on his opening drive of the day when a squirrel ran across the tee box a few feet in front of him.

McIlroy stopped his swing and laughed it off, but the squirrel continued to linger for several seconds, criss-crossing from one side of the packed tee box to the other. And while this was no black cat, the pump-fake to start his round didn’t exactly help the Ulsterman.

McIlroy ultimately blocked his drive into the right rough after enduring his brief rodent delay en route to an opening bogey, and amid soft conditions at TPC River Highlands he played his first five holes in 2 over. McIlroy started the day at 7 under, three shots behind leader Brian Harman.

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Kaymer in six-way tie for BMW International lead

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 5:29 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard shot a 5-under 67 to equal the week's lowest round for a six-way share of the lead after the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.

Bjerregaard had eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey to finish on 5-under 211 - jumping 23 places and joining local favorites Martin Kaymer and Maximilian Kieffer, England's Chris Paisley and Aaron Rai, and Australia's Scott Hend at the top of the leaderboard.

Bjerregaard was fortunate to play before the wind picked up again later in the afternoon.

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Kaymer, the 2008 champion, delighted the home supporters with two birdies in his last three holes for a 71.

Finland's Mikko Korhonen and Chile's Nico Geyger were one shot off the lead after rounds of 69 and 73, respectively.

Defending champion Andres Romero equaled the week's best round (67) to be among a large group two shots off the lead going into Sunday, including three-time European Tour winner Andy Sullivan.

Romero is bidding to be the first player to retain the title.