by Jeff Skinner
When Lydia Ko announced that she was turning pro we all knew her life would be changing. Playing for paychecks is different no matter how good a player is. But Ko continued to do what she had done as an amateur. She went out and won in her second professional tournament at The Swinging Skirts in Taiwan.
But things are changing in Kamp Ko. She signed with the mammoth IMG agency, changed caddies and is moving from New Zealand to Florida. All these moves are understandable if Ko wants to be able to play on the LPGA and chase down the world number one ranking.
Now Kamp KO has announced the most drastic of changes: Ko will leave her longtime coach, Guy Wilson, to join David Leadbetter’s stable. Wilson started coaching Ko when she was five and has been with her as she made her amazing climb through the amateur ranks, won multiple professional events and worked her way to number four in the Rolex World Rankings.
Wilson was diplomatic as he expressed his disappointment on Ko’s decision,” It’s been an honor to help develop Lydia into the number four golfer in the world,” he said in a statement.
“When I first met her the golf clubs were taller than she was and she didn’t know the first thing about a driver or a putter but now she has one of the most envied swings in the women’s golf world.”
“I wish Lydia all the best and will watch proudly as she embarks on what I’m sure will be a hugely successful professional golfing career.”
“While I’m incredibly disappointed that our 11-year partnership is over, I respect Lydia and her team’s decision.” According to Steve Williams, Adam Scott’s caddie and a good friend of Wilson, Scott says Wilson is devastated.
From a distance it seems a bit odd to jettison the only coach this girl has ever had. And I can certainly understand Wilson’s disappointment to lose his prime pupil, especially when she is on the brink of superstardom.
But to me that isn’t the most disheartening aspect of this story. It’s the selection of David Leadbetter that shocks me. True, it is an associate of Leadbetter, Sean Hogan that will be charged with Ko’s swing but the choice of the Leadbetter School worries me.
While still a world renowned swing instructor, Leadbetter’s reputation has taken a few hits recently. His most famous and successful student was six time major champion Nick Faldo who was as technical a golfer there ever was. Currently, Leadbetter’s most high profile players are Suzann Petersen and Michelle Wie. But Leadbetter has the reputation of being very technical and fostering robotic swings.
Petersen is a consistent winner on the LPGA and world-wide. She is probably the best athlete in women’s golf and had four LPGA wins this year. But after winning her first major in 2007 she had struggled in major championships. It wasn’t until the LPGA declared the Evian a major that Petersen claimed her second major as she won in France this year.
Michelle Wie is still a force in women’s golf. She is one of the few women that moves the needle and gathers television ratings and certainly rakes in millions through endorsements. But on the course Wie isn’t feared by anyone. Since turning professional Wie has managed just two LPGA wins, one in ’09 and one in ’11. Her game has become consistently inconsistent and after coming on the scene with so much talent and fanfare she is easily one of the biggest disappointments in golf.
As painful as it may be to Wilson I can understand Ko’s decision to change coaches, for what she says is a Florida based coach but Leadbetter? Didn’t Butch Harmon, Sean Foley, Jim Mclean, Mike Bender, Pia Nilsson or anyone else answer your call?
I hope that Team Leadbetter won’t screw the pooch on this one. Ko has worked herself to world number four already so the title of world number one is within reach. On the other hand, she could fall far, very far down the ranks. Let’s hope she can keep her swing and stay the uninhibited kid we have had the good fortune to watch these past two seasons.