Lydia Ko has faced plenty of heat over the past couple years. The general questions surrounding her have been about why a teen sensation with 14 LPGA titles to her credit would change her coach, her equipment, her caddie—and why has it been two seasons since her last victory? Thankfully for her sanity, it sounds like she hasn’t been paying too much attention to all the critics.
And when she was faced with the chance to change the narrative, Ko stepped up. Five days after turning 21, the New Zealand resident celebrated by claiming her 15th LPGA title, a playoff victory over Minjee Lee at the MEDIHEAL Championship.
Ko didn’t just win, she won in style, making an eagle 3 on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco after hitting her second shot from 234 yards to less than three feet.
The leader after each of the first three rounds, Ko was asked on Saturday night whether or not she felt pressure from people talking about if she’s going to win again or not. Ko responded to the question saying, “I’ve been very distant from like press and media. No offense.”
It was a typical Ko response: honest, yet perfectly considerate.
The last time Ko had slept on a 54-hole lead was at the 2016 U.S. Open. The last time she had won was a week later at the Marathon Classic. Since that victory, Ko has changed her swing coaches, going from David Leadbetter to Gary Gilchrist to her current instructor, Ted Oh, who she began working with in early 2018. She changed her clubs, moving from Callaway to PXG. And she changed her caddie, multiple times. When all of these changes didn’t add up to continued dominance on tour, some questioned whether or not she had made the right choices.
But Ko stayed patient, confident, and relatively quiet about all of the adjustments.
During Sunday’s final round, the lead changed hands multiple times. Ko had started the day one stroke ahead of Jessica Korda. A cold putter kept Korda from making a charge (she’d finish with a Sunday 74). Meanwhile, early bogeys from Ko brought Lee, who started the day three strokes off the lead, into the mix. Lee made five birdies on the back nine to finish 12-under for the tournament, posting a closing 68.
After making the turn with a 38, Ko improved on the back nine and was sitting at 11 under for the tournament, playing in the group behind Lee. She watched as Lee made her birdie putt to finish at 12 under. That putt meant Ko had to make birdie to force a playoff.
Ko’s approach shot came up short on the short par 5, and her chip for eagle grazed the high side of the cup. She tapped in for birdie and a Sunday 71, and the two 21-year-olds went back to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole.
Each player headed into the playoff having had experience winning at Lake Merced in the past. Lee won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where Ko had lost in her semifinal match. Ko won the Swinging Skirts LPGA event in 2014 and 2015 at Lake Merced.
Both put their drives in the fairway. Ko, with a 3-wood in her hands from 234 yards out, hit a towering shot over some branches that hung over the left side of the fairway. It hit in front of the green, rolled up and almost into the hole. Lee made birdie, but it wasn’t enough. Ko’s short eagle putt rolled in and she left the 18th green in tears.
After the win, Ko opened up more about what it felt like to play 43 starts without a win.
“I was frustrated because sometimes I would go into the Thursday feeling, Hey, I feel like I can actually play really well, and then miss the cut or shoot over par,” Ko said. “I think it was more frustration against myself from myself. I think sometimes self pressure is the biggest thing where you kind of put a lot of load on your shoulders. That’s what my mom actually said, hey, just clear your mind, just take away all the weight off your shoulders and just go out and play. That’s what I think I was able to do this week, which is always nice when you’re kind of playing without fear and you’re just out there freely.”
Source: Golf Digest
Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.
She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.
She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.
Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.
She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.
When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.
At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.
“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.
All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.
“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”
Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.
Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.
“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”
— LPGA (@LPGA) April 25, 2018
Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.
Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.
“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”
Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.
What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.
“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”
Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.
Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.
“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”
Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.
Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.
Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.
Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.
“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”
Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.
“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”
Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.
“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”
Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.
“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”
Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.
“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”
Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.
“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”
Masters champion Patrick Reed says he doesn’t believe in one company sponsoring a golfer entirely. At least that’s his stance right now.
But the decision to play with a mixed bag of clubs — and not commit to one big-name brand — could be costing him millions, experts say.
The 27-year-old winner of six PGA Tour titles parted ways with Callaway Golf last year and told CNBC this week, “It’s hard to believe that there is one company that makes 14 perfect golf clubs.”
Golf Channel equipment expert Matt Adams sees Reed in a “unique situation” financially. He estimates winning a Masters could pay out between $12 million-$15 million from corporate appearances, speaking fees and endorsement dollars. That number could be even higher for Reed considering he’s a free agent with his clubs.
“I don’t think (Reed) is looking for or stressed about finding an (equipment) deal. There’s no rush,” said Adams, who’s worked in the golf industry for more than 25 years. “However, when you’re the Masters champion, referred to as Captain America, and it’s a Ryder Cup year, I get the feeling that equipment companies will be knocking on the door and would love to sign somebody of (Reed’s) caliber, particularly when they can offer him a lot of money in a category where he’s not making anything in.”
There’s been an overall decline in equipment deals because of how the market has changed, Adams notes. But he says the decline has generally hurt PGA Tour players less accomplished than Reed, who’s ranked No. 11 in the world.
“For someone as high a caliber as him to win the Masters without an equipment deal is extremely rare,” Adams said. “Five to 10 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to see any Tour player who didn’t have an equipment deal, but there’s not as much money as there used to be.”
After the Masters, Reed seemed unfazed that he’d miss out on a bonus that golfers typically receive from their equipment sponsor after winning a major championship. “The biggest thing was, I wanted to be different,” he told CNBC.
Just how different is it? Reed’s decision to sign with Nike for a clothing deal that’s separate from his equipment falls in line with Tiger Woods’ decision to be sponsored by Nike for apparel but TaylorMade for clubs and Bridgestone Golf for balls.
— Patrick Reed (@PReedGolf) April 10, 2018
Nike stopped making golf equipment in 2016, creating a major wave of free agency for some of the top equipment brands. Since leaving Callaway last year, Reed hasn’t signed with another equipment company.
While under contract with Callaway, he was seen using other brands’ clubs and blamed lackluster results on his equipment.
“That’s the trade-off, when those two things are at conflict,” said Southern California associate professor David Carter, the executive director of the school’s sports business institute. “An athlete in this situation has to weigh what’s best for his on-course performance and long-term, off-course financial wellbeing.”
While Reed’s situation with no equipment sponsor is unusual, there are other recent high-profile examples. Brooks Koepka also bucked the trend when he won the 2017 U.S. Open by using a bag full of irons he wasn’t paid to play with.
Koepka, who had used Nike equipment before it got out of the club-making game and now has an apparel deal with the company like Reed, was courted by Mizuno Golf. Although he wasn’t under contract, Koepka used Mizuno irons created specifically with him in mind (as an athletic long driver) for the U.S. Open.
In another sign of how much the market has changed, Sergio Garcia split with longtime sponsor TaylorMade after 2017, the year he won his green jacket, and signed on with Callaway.
Adams says big-name players such as Tiger or Rory McIlroy can make more than $20 million a year from their apparel and equipment deals combined, and those deals are typically written long term for five to seven years. But the numbers greatly vary below the top-tier names, with mid-range golfers averaging closer to the $1 million-$5 million range for shorter terms.
According to experts, most equipment companies will sponsor around five to seven notable Tour players, and their contracts require a golfer to use 12 or 13 of 14 clubs with the brand. Tiger’s deal is the rare exception to the rule.
In 2016, Phil Mickelson earned $50 million off the course from appearance fees, course design and a list of sponsors that included Callaway and Rolex, according to Forbes. The only active athletes to earn more outside of their normal salaries that year was Roger Federer ($60 million) and LeBron James ($54 million). And Jordan Spieth more than doubled his sponsorship earnings after he won two majors in 2015
“The position that Reed is in now is a good one because of his notoriety,” Carter said. “Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, he has an emerging brand that gives him a tremendous amount of leverage with these (equipment) companies.”
Reed’s case presents an interesting dilemma: Comfort with his clubs or dollar signs. It’s worth noting that he earned $1.98 million for his Masters victory and has just over $22 million in PGA Tour earnings overall.
At Augusta National last weekend, Reed used a Ping driver, Titleist and Callaway irons, Artisan Golf wedges, a 7-year-old Nike 3-wood club and an Odyssey putter. And he used a Titleist Pro V1 ball.
“He would be passing up quite a bit of money,” Carter said of Reed’s lack of equipment sponsor. “But if he’s being true to himself and his personal brand, he could monetize it elsewhere. He could do a deal when he’s comfortable. But it almost seems inevitable for him to sign (an equipment contract). You can only go rogue for so long without it having a (financial) effect.”
Contributing: David Dusek of Golfweek