Ko splits with Leadbetter after three years

By Randall MellDecember 8, 2016, 1:03 am

Lydia Ko and swing coach David Leadbetter are parting ways.

Ko told Leadbetter Tuesday night that she wanted to go in a new direction, and Leadbetter made the split public releasing a statement on his website Wednesday night.

“She called me and said, `David, this is the hardest decision for me, you’re like family, but I’ve decided I need to make a change,’” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com.

Ko and her management team couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“Lydia’s a great person, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time together,” Leadbetter said. “We did a great job together, just look at the record. We can hold our heads up high.”

Leadbetter said he believes Ko’s father, Gil Hong Ko, and her, mother, Tina, were likely heavily involved in the decision to fire him. He believes they were also behind the firing of Lydia’s caddie, Jason Hamilton, during the Asian swing this fall.

“My parting words to Lydia were that I think she needs to take control of her life and her golf game,” Leadbetter said. “She’s the No. 1 player in the world. She isn’t 15 anymore; she’s nearly 20. Her parents have done a great job bringing her up and getting her to a certain level, but she is old enough now to where she should be making her own decisions.”

Ko is making some sweeping changes. She fired Hamilton after the Hana Bank Championship in October. They were together for two years. She is also apparently poised to announce she’s leaving Callaway for a new equipment deal with PXG Golf, according to news reports. Now, there’s news of the Leadbetter split.

Ko’s changing swing and second-half swoon are clearly at the root of her decision to leave Leadbetter, but she limited explanations to “wanting a fresh set of eyes.”

Ko won five times around the world in the first half of this past season, but she didn’t win after claiming the Marathon Classic in July. She struggled this fall, contending less. She went five consecutive events without a top-10 finish late in the year, her longest run without a top 10 since she began playing LPGA events as a 15-year-old.

While Ko denied she was working on swing changes during the Asian swing, Leadbetter confirmed she began moving away from the swing they built together while in Asia.

“There were swing changes in Korea we weren’t made aware of,” Leadbetter said.

Ko left her long-time coach in New Zealand, Guy Wilson, to go to work with Leadbetter and his longtime associate, Sean Hogan, in November of 2013. Her parents told Leadbetter at the time they wanted to fix Lydia’s shut face at the top of her back swing and turn her fade into a draw. They also wanted her to get longer.

Leadbetter built Ko what he called a “Mid A swing,” a version of his “A Swing,” which features a more upright takeaway with a transition to a more shallow downswing. Leadbetter said the steepness of Ko’s takeaway had become “too exaggerated” as this past season wore on. He says fatigue during a brutal summer stretch of big events and fitness issues led to the swing problems.

“Her swing certainly got looser,” Leadbetter said. “It looked like she was lifting the club too much, and as the year went on that grew worse. Her trainers will tell you fitness was an issue, and I think that was a huge factor. So, all of a sudden, you’re not hitting the ball as well, and you lose some confidence and you have a tough run of form.”

Leadbetter said Ko and her father began working on changes while playing the Asian swing, where they were mostly away from Leadbetter and Hogan.

“The fix for her dad’s part was to try to flatten her backswing,” Leadbetter said.

Ko won 15 times in her three years under Leadbetter and Hogan, including two major championships, and she has held the Rolex No. 1 world ranking for 78 weeks. In her last 50 starts going to the CME Group Tour Championship, she had 33 top-10 finishes, 11 of them victories, but she wasn’t herself through the late summer and fall. She led the Rolex Player of the Year race, the battle for the Vare Trophy for low scoring and the LPGA money list beginning the Asian swing. She left the season without winning any of those honors.

Leadbetter said Gil Hong Ko’s presence on the practice tee was becoming a stronger influence in his work with her this year.

“It’s been difficult the last few months, when she’s hearing more than one voice,” Leadbetter said.

Leadbetter was asked if he is bracing for criticism of his “A Swing.”

“The A Swing worked great for two-and-a-half years,” Leadbetter said. “That’s my answer.”

Leadbetter said he treasures what he and Hogan accomplished with Ko.

“These things happen in the world of coaching,” Leadbetter said. “We did a great job together.”

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."