Once on track to become one of the greatest professional golfers in history, Lydia Ko has lost her way. And the turn has come largely on the heels of massive turnover in her camp in late 2016, when Ko replaced her caddie, coach, equipment and fitness trainer essentially all at once. The results have worsened for the former World No. 1, who is currently 16th in the World Ranking and hasn’t won since the period of upheaval more than a year ago.
Her former coach, David Leadbetter, has come forward with his side of the story. The renowned instructor (and member of GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America Hall of Fame) worked with Ko from Nov. 2013-Dec. 2016 and was dropped as part of Ko’s purge. Ko had experienced a lot of success during their time together: she won the LPGA Rookie of the Year and became the youngest-ever world No. 1, a spot she held for 84 weeks.
In a 1,215-word post on his personal website, Leadbetter defended his work with Ko, and the implementation of a swing technique at his academy he calls “The A Swing.” Leadbetter wrote the post as a response to a feature story penned by Kevin Van Valkenburg for ESPN the Magazine, where Van Valkenburg explored Leadbetter’s swing technique and the influence Ko’s parents have on her career. Leadbetter wrote:
“What many people didn’t understand, was that the A Swing, which was a commercial name for a book we published, was for the most part technique that had worked in the early years with Sir Nick Faldo and Nick Price, amongst many others. It was adapted to Lydia in order to make her swing more efficient. If you looked at the statistics, especially greens in regulation, this proved to be true. It was a very simple approach, one she understood and had minimal maintenance.
“We honestly felt like this was the best approach for Lydia, because not being the strongest player, it provided natural energy to her swing.”
Leadbetter also writes that Ko had been burning out in late 2016, and that her father pushed for a coaching change.
“She had a very busy schedule in 2016, including the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, in our opinion, Lydia’s schedule was such that a lot of fatigue and tiredness had set in. Somehow through it all, she managed to win a silver medal, despite the fact that she was physically and mentally exhausted – a classic symptom of burnout.
“Along with all of this, her father, a non-accomplished golfer, heard rumors that she needed to change her swing and made suggestions to Lydia to change it – independently of her coaches.
“In this day and age, we have ways of measuring energy output in the swing. In the last quarter of the year, she had lost 20% of her energy which could only mean one thing – complete fatigue. Unfortunately, to the unknowledgeable, this can be misconstrued as experiencing swing issues. Well, you will have swing issues when you’re too fatigued to workout, practice, and are mentally drained. At the end of the year, she and her “team” decided that even though she had won five tournaments including a Major earlier in the year, that they wanted to move on.”
Leadbetter closes by wishing Ko the best, but takes a pessimistic view on her future playing career.
“Lydia is a great young lady, we only wish the best for her. We honestly felt that if the decision was left entirely up to her, that she would still be with us.
Lydia can certainly win more tournaments, even Majors, but there’s no possible way that she can play better than she played for those first three years. It just goes to show, that not always is the grass greener on the other side of the hill!”