U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Daily Digest: Ko Shrugs Off Disappointment July 10, 2016 | San Martin, Calif. By Ron Driscoll and Tom Mackin

Lydia Ko shrugged off her disappointing finish Sunday at CordeValle, but knows there will be many future chances to win. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Not surprisingly for anyone who knows her, Lydia Ko preferred to highlight the positives from this week’s U.S. Women’s Open Championship, even though she shot a final-round score of 75 to slide from the solo leader at the start of the day into a tie for third place.

“This is the best finish I’ve had at the U.S. Open,” said Ko, 19, the world’s No. 1 player. “I’ve never been in this position before. So this has been really fun and hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to be in this kind of position and pull it off next time.”

Ko appeared to be sailing along through seven holes, having made six pars and one birdie (No. 6) to increase her advantage to two strokes over the field. But she came up short on her tee shot on the 147-yard eighth hole, then ran her pitch shot past the hole and made bogey. Her day really went awry on No. 9, a 572-yard par 5 with a ravine crossing the fairway.

Ko hit her tee shot into the left rough, and was faced with a decision on whether to attempt to fly the ravine with her second shot.

“We’ve been very lucky with lies in the rough this week,” said Jason Hamilton, Ko’s caddie. “That was the first one that – it wasn’t nestled down, but it was an average lie. We knew we had to dig down after it and it was just a calculated risk that didn’t come off.”

Hamilton gave Ko a distance of 125 yards to carry, erring on the side of caution, but Ko’s shot with her 25-degree hybrid club failed to cross the hazard, ending up in tall grass 10 feet short of the fairway on the other side.

The players and caddies were unable to find the ball, and Ko played her fourth shot down the fairway, then missed the green with her fifth, ending up with a double-bogey 7 to slip one stroke behind fellow-competitor Sung Hyun Park. Although still in the mix, Ko made a pair of bogeys after the turn against one birdie and ended up two strokes out of the playoff at 4-under 284.

“I think I should have judged the lie a little better [on No. 9] and maybe played a little smarter and laid up short of the hazard,” said Ko. “And then just lay up again and try and make an up-and-down for par. But I don’t think it necessarily affected me.”

Hamilton saw a few key differences in his player, who has won 13 LPGA Tour events and two majors in her short but stellar career.

“On the eighth hole, for anyone else that’s a tough chip, but Lydia would normally coax that up within 3 feet,” he said. “That one and the one on the 12th hole (which Ko bogeyed after an indifferent chip shot) were not like her at all.”

The grouping of Ko, Park and Eun Hee Ji was put on the clock for slow play on the incoming nine, but neither Ko nor Hamilton thought that was a major factor.

“When things are going poorly, you want to try to get your player to slow down and regroup, because they tend to speed up,” said Hamilton. “But Lydia is pretty good at sticking to her routine. It’s not the first time nor will it be the last time we get told to hurry up. It’s something that the pros know how to deal with.”

“I kind of felt bad, because I almost felt like it was a little bit more of my fault, because we were looking for the ball [on No. 9],” said Ko. “It is tough to be on the clock when it is so windy and when every shot really counts. But we fell out of position and that’s the consequences with it.”

In the end, Ko came up two strokes short of winning her third major and first Women’s Open. But as she noted, there will likely be many more opportunities.

“You’ve got to play well to put yourself in position, and she did that,” said Hamilton. “She played well for at least 63 holes, if not more. You’ve got to realize with the way they set these courses up, it’s a fine line between success and failure on any shot. That’s the nature of the game, and that’s why we love it.”

Choi Earns Low Amateur

Sixteen-year-old Hye-Jin Choi made the most of her first start in the U.S. Women’s Open, becoming the third player from the Republic of Korea to garner low-amateur honors. Her 4-over-par 292 was 11 strokes ahead of Albane Valenzuela and 12 in front of Hannah O’Sullivan, the only other amateurs to make the cut.

“My main goal was to qualify for this tournament,” said Choi, who joins fellow Koreans Jennifer Song (who finished fourth with fellow amateur Morgan Pressel at Pumpkin Ridge G.C. in 2003) and Aree Song (who tied for 39th with fellow amateur Jennie Lee in 2007 at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club) in winning a low-amateur gold medal. “I'm glad that I was able to be here.”

Despite her youth, Choi, winner of the 2015 World Junior Girls Championship, wasn’t intimidated at CordeValle. “I was very glad to experience being with a lot of players that I have always been watching on TV,” she said. “I always thought to myself that I could be playing with them while I was watching.”

It’s another highlight in a busy year for Choi, who has made the cut in eight professional events, with three top 5s. And it won’t slow down any time soon. She will play in both the U.S. Girls’ Junior, starting July 18 at The Ridgewood Country Club, in Paramus, N.J., and the U.S. Women’s Amateur, starting Aug. 1, at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa.

“The conditions (at CordeValle) are very different from when I was playing in Korea, and I'm glad I was able to experience all these things,” said Choi. “I will be at ease a whole lot more when I play at those tournaments.”

Piller Captures Olympic Berth

With her tie for eighth place after a final round of 2-under-par 70, Gerina Piller, of Roswell, N.M., earned a place in the Olympic women’s golf competition next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Piller moved from No. 16 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings to 15th, slipping past Bomee Lee of the Republic of Korea, who dropped three places from No. 14. Being in the top 15 assures Piller of being one of three players who have qualified to represent the USA in Rio, joining No. 4 Lexi Thompson and No. 9 Stacy Lewis.

Anna Nordqvist, of Sweden, who stood 15th going into the Women’s Open, moved up four places to No. 11 with her runner-up finish. (Click here to see Rolex Rankings list)

Notable and Quotable

  • Brittany Lang is the third consecutive champion to make the U.S. Women’s Open her first major victory. (Michelle Wie, 2014 and In Gee Chun, 2015). Lang finished runner-up in the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2011 Women’s British Open.
  • Lang, 30, is the first player 30 or older to win the U.S. Women’s Open since Annika Sorenstam in 2006. Lang also joins Dustin Johnson, last month’s U.S. Open champion, in having a brother on the bag. Lang’s brother, Luke, caddied for her, and Austin Johnson caddied for Dustin.
  • The runner-up finish is Anna Nordqvist’s seventh top 10 in her last 12 major championships. She led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 62 of 72 (86.1 percent) for the week. She also hit all 18 greens in regulation in Round 1, the first time a player has hit all 18 greens in a round in the U.S. Women’s Open since the statistic starting being tracked by the USGA in 1986.
  • Lydia Ko’s tie for third is her fifth consecutive top-3 finish in a major championship. This was the sixth time in 10 attempts that Ko has failed to convert a 54-hole lead in her career.
  • Eun Hee Ji, who tied for third place after a final-round 74, finished 67th in driving distance (230.7 yards), but second in greens in regulation (59 of 72).
  • This is the third consecutive year and fifth time in the last seven years that Amy Yang (73 on Sunday to tie for third place) has finished in the top 5 in the U.S. Women’s Open. It is her sixth top-10 finish in the last seven years. Yang now has 14 career top 10s in major championships, the most top 10s without a major-championship victory since 1997.
  • The par-4 14th played as the most difficult hole in the fourth round with a scoring average of 4.57, while the par-5 15th played as the easiest hole in the fourth round with a scoring average of 4.43. It also played as the easiest hole in the first and second rounds.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org. Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com

 

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