“Lydia Ko goes Pro” video gets four stars

It has been many months since my last post because I have had a lot of life changes in the past nine months (no, I did not have a child).  I have moved to a new state for a dream job! As we all know with a new job and a big move other things fall to the wayside.  But now I am more settled in my job and new home; and of course fall is here (so less daylight hours to play golf), which makes it a logical time to focus on my blog.

I wanted to start with something light and fun!  And Lydia Ko’s announcement that she is turning pro is just the ticket!  I read that she decided to release a video rather than do a press conference and sure enough she tweeted out to her followers the link to the video on October 22.  Here is the video for your enjoyment:

I give the video four stars because it is entertaining (Lydia speed golfing) and shows her personality (e.g., she laughs a lot); and it certainly beats a boring press conference video.

I have said in a previous post that I am not a fan of the younger and younger players we see in professional events.  And that a player like Michele Wie is a cautionary tale because she is only 23 and struggles to find her game.  But, Lydia Ko seems to be a very poised and talented young women.  Ko has won a number of professional tournaments and made history winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 and 2013. As the press has pointed out, Ko has left over $1 Million in money on the table as an amateur.

Now we just have to wait for the LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, to approve her request to waive the rule requiring LPGA professionals to be at least 18 years old.  The waiver is a  “fiat accompli” given the popularity of Ko, the fact she has already won multiple professional events as an amateur, and Whan waived the age requirement for Lexi Thompson after she won an LPGA event.

As a professional, Ko will face a new kind of scrutiny because everyone will be watching to see if she falters under the “pressure” of being a pro. Time and time again a young amateur golfer is hailed as the next “Tiger or Annika” and seems to lose their talent (or maybe free spirit) as a professional.  Only time will tell if Ko is able win as much as a professional as she did as an amateur.

Hopefully, she will have a smooth transition from the “darling of the amateur ranks” to a regular pro on tour. Bottom line, I know I will be watching to see how she plays in her first tournament as a professional.

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Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

2012 Ricoh Women’s British Open: Questions and Answers

In my post Ricoh Women’s British Open: Forget the forecast – it’s time for women’s golf to shine five questions were posted.  Below are the answers to all the questions and more….

(1) Will Yani Tseng win back-to-back Women’s British Opens and end the slump she has been in the last few months?  No, Tseng was not able to win.  Her final score was 299 or 11 over par for the tournament (Position – Tied for 26 place).  She was even par going into the final rounds but shot 76 and 79 to end the tournament.

(2) Can Paula Creamer rebound after the loss to Jiyal Shin last week at the Kingsmill Championship?  Not completely.  Creamer did not play poorly overall but she did not really contented; but then again, no one was close to the winner.  Paula was the top American, finishing in 3rd place (final score 289, or 1 over par for the tournament).  Although she did not win, Creamer actually had an impressive last round — she was in 10th placed and moved up to 3rd place (which was great given the weather was tough during the last 18 holes.)  Creamer still seems to be having trouble with her putter.  I’m sure Creamer will eventually fix the putter issues and we will see her back in the winners circle.

(3) Will Stacy Lewis win another major and finally get the respect she deserves?  Lewis finished in 8th position at 8 over par for the tournament.  I expected Lewis to perform better at the open but she seemed to be a bit frustrated with her play.  We all know that golf is a mental game and she did not seem as mentally tough as she normally appears in tournaments.  I think Stacy Lewis is still the “big hope” for US women’s golf — in terms of being a “contender” for the world #1 position (which is important to the American golf market.)

(4) How will Lydia Ko perform playing links golf and will she outshine the professionals?  If Ko were just “any” amateur, everyone would be impressed with her 17th place finish but Ko has won two professional tournaments as an amateur and people seemed slightly disappointed by her performance.  Really?  She is still only 15, made the cut at a major, won the “low amateur” award at the Women’s British open, and finished in the top 20 — I’m still impressed.

(5) If not the youngest player, Lydia Ko, will one of the “seasoned” players have a moment of glory?  My hopes that one of the older players might win did not come to pass.  Laura Davies, the 48-year-old British player, withdrew on Saturday due to an ankle injury.  This was a real surprise because before play was suspended on Friday, Davies was playing quite well.  Julie Inkster (the oldest player at 52) finished tied for 26th at 10 over par.  She commented to the media that it was the worst weather she has faced in 30-years of professional golf.

So who won?  The winner was Jiyai Shin, the Korean player that beat Paula Creamer in the Kingsmill playoff.  It was an impressive win for Shin — she smoked the field with a score of 9 under par (279 total).  Shin was the only player under par for the tournament. Her rounds were: 71, 64, 71, and 73.  Shin really seized the opportunity (with the low score of 64) on Saturday when the weather cooperated (i.e. little wind).  Shin told the press ““That might well be the best round I have ever played…”

The title of my previous blog began with “Forget the Weather…” but that was impossible.  The weather was a huge story this week.  The first day of the tournament was a bit windy but appeared to be what players expected for links golf.  Friday was just plain awful.  After the first group completed the first 4 holes play was suspended.  And, in an unusual (but not unprecedented move) the scores of those players were scratched.

Scratching scores has caused some debate in the golf world.  I noticed many of the golf analysts that felt they should have played or at least kept the scores were men.  I think the tour did the right thing.  Let’s remember that many of the LPGA players are quite petite and do not have the additional weight men have (so being blown over for the women was a real issue).  Balance is important in a golf swing and many players said that if the wind gusted in their back swing it just blew them off balance.  Even Michelle Wie who is quite tall said on Twitter that she felt like a flag pole and added a link to this image on the LPGA website.  In my opinion, the only “misjudgement” on the part of the tournament officials — starting play in the first place on Friday.

Lydia Ko makes history, again. Is Ko an “amateur” in name only?

It was amazing to watch Lydia Ko win the CN Canadian Women’s Open.  However, what was really surprising was that Ko was the lead story on Golf Channel’s wrap-up show, Golf Central.  It is rare that a ladies event overshadows a PGA event, but Lydia Ko’s win overshadowed Nick Watney’s win at the Barclays.

I wrote about Lydia winning the US Women’s Amateur just a few weeks ago.  Ko is an amazing golfer; but what is really surprising is her demeanor on the golf course and during her press conferences.  She has a lovely personality.  She smiles all the time (and said in the press conference she tries to smile even when she makes a bad shot).  She is quick to acknowledge all the people supporting her golf career and seems to recognize that her amateur schedule is like a job.  She stated in various interviews that she has missed many months of school with all the world traveling she is doing for golf.

As I watched Ko play, I noticed she had a Srixon logo on her golf cap and a New Zealand Golf Logo on her shirt.  I did a bit of research and found the New Zealand Golf website.  As an amateur Ko cannot have sponsors but what she does have is the support of the New Zealand Golf Federation.  Lydia Ko is one of the shinning stars of the New Zealand Golf Federation’s National Development Program (or better known to the golf viewing public as the “Srixon Golf Academy.”)

When you read the details of the “National Development Programme” on the New Zealand Golf Website, you realize how much of an advantage players supported by a national federation have over an amateur without such support.  The website states “The National Development Programme is the pathway that assists young emerging talent from throughout New Zealand to succeed on the international stage.”  Here is what the website states a Srixon Golf Academy player can expect:

  • Primary coach
  • Sports psychologist
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • Golf specific physiotherapist
  • They will also have funding assistance to ensure their attendance at national events throughout their term in the Academy.
  • For the very best of the Academy there will be a contestable ‘International Tournament Campaign Fund’ to help assist them create and manage their own international tournament campaigns.  (Note: the website even lists specific tournaments in Asia, UK/Europe, Canada, and the USA).

Wow, given the “funding” support it is hard to call Lydia Ko an Amateur.  Clearly, the financial support to travel all over the world to compete against the worlds best golfers is a luxury most American amateurs would love.  Actually, I think a lot of “journeymen” players and “rookies” on the professional tours would love that kind of financial support.

The support Lydia Ko receives does not take away from her talent or her win.  She is still a 15-year-old playing an individual sport and it is her talent and mental fortitude that has allowed her to win at the highest level of golf.  However, the support Ko receives “outside the ropes” is not something all amateurs get.  Judy Rankin, Golf Hall of Fame member and commentator for LPGA golf events, often comments during her on-air TV analysis that international amateurs (supported by golf federations) have an advantage over American amateurs.  The lack of international travel and opportunity to play against the best in the world is a big issue for the development of American Amateurs.

Is Lydia Ko like other Amateurs at all?  One way Lydia Ko is a normal amateur is that she does not have the pressure a professional has to win.  Professionals feel pressure because golf is how they make their living.  Maybe a good example is Lexi Thompson.  In 2007, at age 12, Thompson was the youngest golfer to qualify for the US Women’s Open and turned pro at 15 but did not have her LPGA card. Thompson was entering LPGA tournaments on sponsor exemptions. Thompson made history when she won her first LPGA event (the Navistar LPGA Classic) at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old.  Given her win, the LPGA waived the age minimum/restriction and granted Lexi Thompson her card.  But as a professional, Thompson has struggled this year and missed the cut at the CN Canadian Women’s Open.  The other past “amateur phenom” to miss the cut this week — Michelle Wie.

Is Lydia Ko an amateur in name only?  I say yes because she plays like a professional, she travels and competes worldwide like a professional, and she has “financial support” that mirrors the economic benefit to cover travel costs that a sponsor deal might cover (without the official sponsor).

Who knows when Lydia Ko will become a professional.  Until that time, I’m sure Lydia Ko will continue to amaze the golf viewing public with her amazing talent.  The next big question is when she does turn professional, will she continue her phenomenal rise?  Will Ko be the next Annika or Tiger?.  Only time will tell.  One thing is for sure —  the golf world will be watching.

Lydia Ko wins USGA Women’s Amateur: second-youngest winner at age 15

2012 USGA Women’s Amateur Overview

There is no surprise that Lydia Ko won the USGA Women’s Amateur because she is the #1 ranked amateur in the world rankings (WAGR).  It is amazing that she has held the number one spot for over 40 weeks (and was 14 when she attained the rank).  She is another young prodigy poised for golf greatness.

The USGA Women’s Amateur is a four-day event.  The first two days are stroke play and the top 64 players advance to the weekend match play rounds.  Lydia Ko played Janye Marie Green, an 18-year-old American, for the title.   Janye Marie Green was ranked 14th in the world and moved up to the 7th ranked player after coming in second at the USGA Women’s Amateur.

Janye Marie Green did challenge Lydia Ko in the finals but Ko went 3 up to win the title.  The turning point in the final was late in the second round of the final day; specifically on the 24th and 25th holes.  Green hit a tree on the 24th hole ending up in a horrible position. Green tried twice to hit the ball back into the fairway.  She could not advance the ball and had to concede the hole.  On the next hole, Green hit a beautiful shot onto the green and looked like she might win the hole because Ko was still off the green. It was amazing to watch Ko chip in and make a birdie to go 3 up.  Green never got back in the match.

Age and the USGA Women’s Amateur:

If you read my previous post, “They just keep getting younger: 10-year-old Latanna Stone makes history,” then you know I believe there should be an age limit to compete in the Women’s Amateur.  So while watching the USGA Women’s Amateur, I tweeted the following:

Tweet about youngest and oldest players in USGA Womens AmateurAs you can see from the tweet, 10-year-old Latanna Stone missed the cut; but so did the oldest player Brenda Picardo (who was age 56).  Honestly, I was really hoping the oldest player would make the cut.

So once again, I want to highlight the power of social media because the USGA listened to the “twitter conversation” and answered my question.  The USGA first marked my tweet as a “favorite” (which gave me a hint that they might reply later).  The next day, the USGA did tweet age related information.  Here is the first tweet (after my tweet) from the USGA:

First Tweet of USGA explaining ages of remaining players

After I tweeted my age question, the USGA sent a tweet with age ranges

Now, the USGA did not re-tweet my question (which would have been nice) but they did provide the information.  The USGA continued to tweet age information.  It is interesting to see that the average age kept dropping with each round of golf.

Note: To read a tweet stream (in chronological order) go from bottom to top — or 9 Aug to 11 Aug

USGA Tweets age information for Women’s Amateur

Although the tweets do not mention it, Jayvie Agojo is a 26-year-old mother with a young daughter.  Agojo’s amateur world golf ranking went from 155 to 108 after the tournament.

Paula Reto is a 22-year-old who did not even take up the golf until 2005.  Reto was a member of Purdue’s winning team at the 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship.  After the USGA Women’s Amateur tournament Reto moved from 27th to 22nd in the amateur world golf rankings WAGR.

Does being a great amateur translate to being a great professional golfer?

The final tweet acknowledges Kimberley Kim who won the Women’s amateur at the age of fourteen.  I was curious what happened to Kim because I do not recall seeing her play in the LPGA events I watch (or course, not all players are highlighted on television).

To my surprise Kim has not had a successful professional career. The LPGA has a minimum age requirement so Kim turned pro after the age of 18.  Her LPGA bio shows zero earnings as a professional during her rookie year in 2011.  She missed every cut and it appears did not qualify to return to the tour.  According to another online bio, Kim did so poorly that the website, soulsisters.com stated:

“At Qualifying School in the Fall, she played so terribly that she did not even gain Futures Tour membership, let alone LPGA membership (her first round was an 89!). Presumably she is not ready to give up on pro golf, but exactly what her immediate plans are is unknown.”

note: Kim is American and half-Korean so that is why the website soulsisters.com, a website that follows Korean players on the LPGA, lists her bio.

As for Lydia Ko, all things point to an amazing future.  Ko has already won a professional golf event as an amateur.  In January, she made history winning the women’s New South Wales Open (Ko is from New Zealand and was born in South Korean).  Ko seems well grounded, plans to remain an amateur, and then go to college.