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Leadbetter’s Criticism of Ko Family Is Undeserved

Copyright USGA/Hunter Martin

The Lydia Ko-David Leadbetter split took an ugly turn on Friday after Leadbetter, in a story by Jaime Diaz on, blamed Ko’s parents for much of the trouble in the 19-year-old’s game.

“At this point, their sole occupation is taking care of Lydia’s every need,” Leadbetter is quoted as saying. “They tell her when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to practice and what to practice. And they expect her to win every tournament. They are good people, who love their daughter and want the very best for her, and Lydia has never been to college and is still young. But they are naive about golf. And at some point, they’ve got to let the bird fly from the nest. I would often think, ‘It’s not easy coaching three people.’ ”

In addition to breaking the cardinal rule of coaching – you never throw stones at a former student, and you never, ever, not-in-your-wildest-dreams cast aspersions at a young woman’s parents – much of what Leadbetter said is demonstrably untrue.

In 2014, her rookie year, when she was 17 years old, couldn’t drive, didn’t have a credit card, and had no idea what it was like to travel on tour, Lydia lived and traveled with her mother, Tina. After that, Lydia took ownership of much of her life and her game. Her sister, Sura, moved in with her to help. But her parents took no more of a role than any others on the LPGA, and were far less involved than many tour parents. Gil Hong Ko, Lydia’s father, was behind the scenes for most of her three years on tour and only took a noticeable role late this season.

Ko's intelligence and world-class short game have carried her while full swing struggles remain a source of frustration.

Leadbetter also said he only became concerned about the relationship after Lydia failed to respond to a text, and that he didn’t find out about the split until she called him this week. If that’s true, he was the only person in the game who didn’t see this coming for months. In October, Gil Hong’s presence on ranges became more prominent and the swing changes – a wider arc and less re-routing in transition – were evident to anyone who followed her. It appeared that she was attempting to reintroduce many of the elements of the swing she’d had as an amateur, the one Leadbetter had once called “a Mona Lisa.”

There never appeared to be tension between Leadbetter and the Ko family because the Kos are among the kindest people in golf. Still, when Lydia’s ballstriking statistics steadily declined, Gil Hong became more engaged, as any father would when things start going sideways for his teenager.

The family had planned to keep quiet about the coaching change. Lydia doesn’t play again until the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in mid-February so there was no rush. They were surprised when Leadbetter made the announcement on his website but were generally pleased by its tone.

Although self-serving in spots, Leadbetter’s statement was gracious. It read, in part: “Lydia is not only an exceptional player, but also an exceptional person. She is a perfect role model for any young golfer to follow on how to conduct oneself on the golf course, interact with the public, and give back to the game. Lydia has been an absolute pleasure to coach and she felt the staff at the Leadbetter Golf Academy Headquarters at Champions Gate has been like an extended family to her.”

As a result, Lydia drafted a statement of her own, which mirrored Leadbetter’s in its praise.

Then the story hit. Now, the Kos, who are vacationing in South Korea for Christmas, have no plans to make a statement until at least mid-January when Lydia likely will have a new coach.

This marks a sad and sordid end to one of the most noted coach/player relationships in the women’s game: one that didn’t warrant such a stink-bomb of a finale.LPGA: U.S. Women's Open - First Round

No matter what former coaches or caddies or outsiders with a Twitter account have to say, if you want to know what kind of people Tina and Gil Hong Ko really are, just look at their daughters. Both Sura and Lydia are humble, self-deprecating, witty, charming, charismatic, gracious, graceful, kind, calm, mature, thoughtful and balanced young women. Those traits didn’t fall from the sky. They were either inherited or learned. Either way, you can thank their parents.

They deserved better. Thankfully, they are the kind of people who haven’t lost a minute’s sleep because of the words of others. That, too, should be taken into account.


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