Lydia Ko endures 1st season without winning on the LPGA Tour
NAPLES, Fla. — Lydia Ko blasted out from in front of the steep edge of a bunker and raised her arms playfully when it dropped for par. She ended the first round of the CME Group Tour Championship one shot out of the lead, and she looked like the Ko of old.
Her comments immediately after the round spoke to what kind of year it was.
"It would be good to finish the season with a top 10. I would be pretty happy with that," Ko said.
This from someone who reached No. 1 in the world at age 17, who won her first LPGA Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur and won every year since then. That streak ended in one of the most surprising developments of the year on the LPGA Tour.
Ko failed to win a single tournament. She finished 13th on the LPGA money list, after earning more than $2 million each of the last three seasons.
She paid a steep price for making so many changes all at once. Ko left coach David Leadbetter for Gary Gilchrist, she sacked her caddie late last year (she once went through seven caddies as a rookie) and she left Callaway for PXG.
"I think she has handled it extremely well," said Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer and television analyst. "But I can't imagine that she doesn't lay her head on the pillow at night and think: 'What happened? Where did I go? Was that not real?' Part of it is just growing up. Part of it is in golf, and maybe all the way through life, I'm not sure you come to that point where you've grown up just enough to know things can go wrong. And then they begin to."
Ko had three runner-up finishes this year, losing the final-round lead to Lexi Thompson in Indianapolis. She failed to register a top 10 in the traditional majors until tying for third in Evian, the major reduced to 54 holes.
Ko never thought it was that bad.
"Obviously, winning a championship is a huge deal, but sometimes it's overrated when you haven't won," Ko said. "You're still playing well, but just haven't won. I feel like it's been that kind of year. I think everybody has little ups and downs. To me, I think it was important to finish on the higher note, which I feel like that's what happened."
She tied for 16th in Naples and soon was on her way to South Korea for three weeks of fun (mainly concerts) and no golf.
THE OPEN QUALIFYING
Geoff Ogilvy has been playing the Australian Open every year since he was low amateur in 1995, with the exception of 2000, when he was going through Q-school on the PGA Tour. Lately, it has brought him nothing but heartache.
Along with being his national open, this is the first in the "Open Qualifying Series" to earn a spot at Carnoustie next summer. The leading three players at the Australian Open not already eligible will qualify for the The Open Championship.
A year ago, Ogilvy was poised to win the tournament until a tee shot into the trees on the 16th led to double bogey. He tied for fourth and missed The Open spot because Aaron Baddeley had the higher ranking. The previous year, Ogilvy again was in good shape until he hit into the water on the 17th. He missed the spot in The Open by two shots.
Meanwhile, The Open will have similar qualifiers at the Joburg Open on Dec. 7-10 (three spots) and the Singapore Open on Jan. 18-21 (four spots).
LPGA Q SERIES
The LPGA Tour is revamping the final stage of its Q-school that essentially will direct more players to the Symetra Tour and determine priority strictly on the scores from the final stage.
It will be called Q Series, and the final stage will be two 72-hole tournaments with a cumulative score.
The field will be 108 players.
Commissioner Mike Whan said the best players in college or coming from other nations, such as South Korea, can still get an LPGA Tour card by winning a tournament or finishing equal to top 40 on the money list from tournaments with no cuts.
The LPGA will still have two stages of Q-school. This year, he said, about 80 players from the two stages will play in the final stage. That won't be the case next year. Whan said the final stage will consist of Nos. 101-150 on the LPGA money list and Nos. 11-30 on the Symetra Tour money list. He said the top five players from the college golf rankings published by Golfweek will get into the final stage, and perhaps some 10 players who are among the top 75 in the world ranking.
The rest of the field will be filled from players who advance from the second stage. Those who don't will have a Symetra Tour card.
"The superstars of the time will still get through," Whan said. "But generally speaking, most players will get to Stage II, play a year on the Symetra Tour and play their way onto the LPGA."
Meanwhile, he said, the average purse on the Symetra Tour next year will be about $140,000. That's up from an average of $90,000 a few years ago.
One month into the job as Augusta National chairman, Fred Ridley has a couple of roles to fill.
Ridley wanted to wait to appoint his successor as chairman of the competition committees because the club also lost Rob Chapman, the chief executive of Inman Mills in South Carolina, who died in August at age 66. Chapman, a popular member among the players, was head of the Cup and Tee Markers committee.
"There are a couple of committee selections that are going to have to be addressed, one of them sadly because of the passing of our dear friend Rob Chapman," Ridley said when he took over. "And I'd like to announce them at the same time."
Ridley said he was pleased to at least have options.
"When I started with the competition committee, we had a limited number of numbers who were involved, interested and proficient in the rules," said Ridley, a former USGA president. "We have a half-dozen members who are really good."
Mike Whan wore a Miami Dolphins jersey (No. 23) to celebrate an announcement last week that CME Group has agreed to extend its title sponsorship of the Tour Championship and the Race to the CME Globe through 2023. ... Austin Cook made only two bogeys (or worse) over 72 holes to win the RSM Classic. The only other player to do that in 2017 on the PGA Tour was Justin Thomas, who made two bogeys at the TPC Boston. ... Four of the eight winners from the fall schedule had never won on the PGA Tour — Ryan Armour, Patrick Cantlay, Patton Kizzire and Austin Cook. ... Elaine Farquharson-Black has been appointed captain for the second time of the Britain and Ireland team for the Curtis Cup. The matches are June 8-10 at Quaker Ridge in New York. ... Nine of the top 20 players from the final Race to Dubai standings are playing the Hong Kong Open this week, led by Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Sarah Jane Smith finished 50th on the LPGA money list this year with $411,933. Five years ago, Jennifer Johnson finished 50th on the money list with $245,999.
"Some people have asked me if I feel an obligation to give back to the game. I rather think of it as a privilege." — Katherine Kirk of Australia.
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