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.”