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OPINION: Caddie Firing Is Not Grounds To Criticize Ko

Lydia Ko
Lydia Ko tees off at the 17th hole during the first round of the 2017 ANA Inspiration. Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lydia Ko criticisms have gotten right silly, especially against the backdrop of her comeback performance last week in Hawaii where she opened with a 73 and played the next 54 holes in 18-under par.

But the news in this LPGA off week hasn’t been Ko’s comeback or the vast improvements she has made in driving and putting, two areas of her game that have, at turns, dogged her since early last fall.

What’s lighting up social media is the fact that Ko fired her caddie, Gary Matthews, who for reasons only he could explain aired his grievances to Golf Digest. Matthews even suggested that Lydia needed to “wake up.”  

In addition to Matthews’ comments being bad form, his insinuation that this dismissal is out of the ordinary is laughable. Caddie firings on the LPGA Tour are so frequent that the first sheet media members pick up each week is one listing which caddie is working for which player.

Every Tuesday on an LPGA putting green, who’s in and who’s on the way out comes up in conversation. The carousel never stops turning.

Ha Na Jang has had three caddies since the end of last season, and the Jutanugarn sisters go through them faster than golf gloves. Pete Godfrey, one of the best loopers out there (and who recently married LPGA player Jane Park), was on Ariya Jutanugarn’s bag for many of her victories during her Player of the Year season in 2016. Then she fired him. Ariya hasn’t won since.

Godfrey never said a word, just as Jason Hamilton, Ko’s previous caddie before Matthews, didn’t blab out of school when he left Ko or, later, Jang (Hamilton since has reunited with Yani Tseng).

There’s plenty to say when it comes to how LPGA players handle caddie arrangements. Imagine if you owned a small accounting firm and fired two or three employees a year because the chemistry just wasn’t right. These people are employees, some with families, and they deserve to be trained and treated with the same respect as workers in other professions. But singling Ko out is unfair, bordering on ridiculous.

Some LPGA caddies are invaluable. Brittany Lincicome would not have won in the Bahamas earlier this year without Missy Pederson on the bag. Stacy Lewis and Travis Wilson have a great relationship. And Ko might not have won the 2016 ANA Inspiration without Hamilton, who convinced her to lay up and try to make birdie with her wedge on the final hole. Of course, Ko might not have lost the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open if Hamilton had been more insistent about wedging out of some of the CordeValle rough.

Some players need a friend. Some need a psychologist. Some need a soothing voice beside them. And some need little more than a porter to carry the bag. Either way, what Ko did last week was nothing new.

There might be reasons to criticize her. But firing a caddie certainly isn’t one of them.  

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