We saw it coming. Close watchers of Lydia Ko have known that her tenure as a student of David Leadbetter’s was in its waning days. The swing changes Ko began implementing during the LPGA’s Asian swing this fall were not exactly a repudiation of the work she and Leadbetter had done in the past three years, but they did intimate that the 19-year-old was attempting to go back to the near flawless swing she had as an amateur, one that made her one of the greatest teenage phenoms to put a tee in the ground.
Now, it’s official. On his website, Leadbetter announced Wednesday that he and Ko have split.
“These things happen in the world of coaching,” the statement read. “Whether it’s Jürgen Klinsmann with the U.S. National Soccer Team or Novak Djokovic who just separated from his coach Boris Becker this week, turnover is all part of the coaching business.
“We as a team want to thank Lydia for the privilege of helping her develop her game over the past three years. … Our goal from our very first coaching session with Lydia in November of 2013 was to create a vision and blueprint for this extraordinary talent designed around improving her full-swing shotmaking abilities, power and short-game performance.”
The swing changes Leadbetter spearheaded were supposed to make Ko longer by allowing her to work the ball from right to left. Instead she got shorter, at least off the tee, and far less accurate. In 2014, Ko’s first full year with Leadbetter, her average driving distance was 249.59 yards. She hit almost 80 percent of the fairways and 74 percent of the greens in regulation. In 2016, she averaged 246.73 off the tee and hit only 71 percent of the fairways and 70 percent of the greens.
Ko is the best putter and most gifted strategist in women’s golf, with both traits having saved her as she has struggled with her long game.
She didn’t want to talk about it before the end of the season and, in fact, deflected any discussion about the swing changes we all saw. One of the most telling signs was the involvement of her father last month at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla. Normally content to allow Ko and Leadbetter to work unabated, Gil Hong Ko was more engaged in his daughter’s practice sessions than at any time in recent years.
The Kos are spending the holidays in South Korea where Lydia’s mother, Tina, said she wanted a “White Christmas.”
Here’s hoping Ko, who also changed caddies in October, will have a happy, healthy, and productive New Year.