NAPLES, Fla. – Next week marks the two-year anniversary of the day Lydia Ko began working with her swing coach, David Leadbetter.
There was much angst at the time, questions about whether Ko should be abandoning the swing and the New Zealand coach who helped her emerge as such a phenom.
So how’s it going?
Ko, 18, has reigned as Rolex world No. 1 for 23 weeks since the union. She has won eight LPGA titles, including her first major championship, the Evian Championship in September. She claimed the biggest payday in the history of women’s golf, winning the CME Group Tour Championship last year, and is looking to do it again this week. If she does win Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club, she will likely sweep the LPGA’s three most prized season-long awards: the Rolex Player of the Year title, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the money-winning title.
“You’re always happy when a player is confident and has a real understanding of what they’re doing,” Leadbetter said. “We’ve made the changes we wanted to make. We don’t do anything more than maintenance now. As a coach, you want a player to have control of what they’re doing and to be their own best coach.”
Leadbetter says Ko is there.
In a controversial move two years ago, Ko left her long-time coach, Guy Wilson. She turned to Leadbetter and his assistant, Sean Hogan, in part because her father, Gil Hong Ko, admired the swing of Hee Young Park, who worked with Leadbetter and Hogan.
“In the beginning, to be honest, we were a little reluctant to take her on, because it was a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Leadbetter said. “If she played well, she was supposed to play well. If she played badly, well, then it’s, 'You guys screwed up.’
“I went through that before with Nick Faldo. It was, 'Who the hell are you to mess up our golden boy?’ It’s always a bit of a risk, but you have to take a little bit of risk in life sometimes.”
There was added risk in that Leadbetter and Hogan didn’t manage and refine the swing Ko brought to them. They changed it rather significantly. It was actually a change the Ko family pushed to happen.
Ko hit a fade when she came to Leadbetter, but Tina, Lydia’s mother, told Leadbetter they wanted to get rid of Lydia’s shut face and have her gain some more distance. Leadbetter changed Ko’s strong grip to a neutral grip. He changed her shut face at the top of her backswing to a more square position. He turned her fade into a draw, and he got her more distance.
“If you look at her swing now, it is much more compact than it used to be,” Leadbetter said. “She used to have this wide swing that took her a long time to complete. Her tempo has gotten a smidgen quicker than it used to be, which matches what she’s doing. The big thing is this has enabled her to get her leg action more solid.
“When she had this big, wide, long swing, as slow as that was, her hips got really active. You see now her hips are much more stable, providing much more balance to her swing. In a word, she is much better synchronized. Her arms and body work much more in sync. Before, there was a lot more timing involved. She's gotten a lot more efficient.”
It’s Leadbetter’s A-swing.
“It’s a commercial name for an alternative backswing,” he said. “I have always believed that the backswing should be a little steeper and the downswing should be a little shallower. It is not really a method; it’s an approach. She is a mid-A swinger.”