Lydia Ko goes back to work in earnest Wednesday knowing all kinds of questions follow her into the new season as she prepares to unveil sweeping changes to her game.
After going about a month without hitting a ball, the Rolex world No. 1 will go back to work at her Orlando base, back to the practice range to get ready to face all the challengers lining up to try to take that top spot away from her this season.
Ko will do so after making her switch to PXG clubs official Tuesday morning, and after announcing she will start the year with Gary Matthews as her full-time caddie. The former caddie to Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim and Camillo Villegas picked up Ko’s bag on a trial basis at the end of last season, after Ko let Jason Hamilton go in South Korea in October.
Ko’s major overhaul is two-thirds complete now, with the final major change still to be unveiled. She fired David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan as her coaches a month ago but said Tuesday that she isn’t ready to announce who will follow as her new coach.
Ko won’t play the LPGA season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, Jan. 26-29. She will make her debut at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, Feb. 16-19.
“I can’t really say any coach’s names yet,” Ko told GolfChannel.com. “Because I haven’t tried out anyone yet. I just got back to Orlando last night, and I’m going to see what my options are. I’ll definitely have a coach before going to Australia.”
Ko spent most of the last month off in South Korea, where she visited her grandparents and other family. She also spent some time in Paris, visiting the Eiffel Tower during an Evian photo shoot. She spent the last couple days in Phoenix working on a new driver with PXG.
When a top player makes one major change, especially to equipment or coaching, there’s always speculation about what challenges will follow. With Ko making three major changes, the level of curiosity promises to be more intense when she tees it up for the first time in Australia.
“I’m more excited than worried,” she said, moments before making an appearance on “Morning Drive.” “I know there have been concerns, but I’m going to take this positively.”
While Ko isn’t ready to say whom she plans to seek out as her new coach, she said her approach won’t necessarily depend on the coach. Ko said she believes it’s time for her to take ownership of her swing.
“It’s important for me to understand more about my swing and my game, no matter who I end up working with,” Ko said. “The new coach isn’t going to be with me 365 days a year. If I learn more about my game, I’ll be able to find answers within myself, when I’m away from my coach. I think that’s going to be really important, so I’m not as reliant on coaches.”
Ko said she is seeking something basic from a new instructor.
“I just want to try to keep it simple,” Ko said. “I don’t want to rip the swing apart. I feel like there are a lot of positives in my swing. I’m really going to work around the rhythm of my swing, being able to keep my rhythm and being more consistent. Consistency is what I’m looking for, performance wise.
Ko told Golf Channel she made the move away from Leadbetter last month primarily because she believed she needs to become a better driver.
“I was looking for more consistency with my driver,” Ko said. “I think that’s going to be really important going forward. The driver sets up a hole, sets up a round.
“Even though it was a hard decision to leave David and Sean, I believe it was the right decision.”
Ko, the most successful teen in the history of the game, will turn 20 on April 24. While there was some controversy following her decision to seek a new coach, with Leadbetter saying he believed Ko’s parents were overly involved, Ko said the decision was all hers.
“My parents have been with me from Day 1, and, yes, they give me input, but if I didn’t want to make this switch, I wouldn’t have done it,” Ko said. “The final decision was mine. It’s why I reached out to David, not my parents. I thought this was going to be the right decision going forward. It’s my decision, and I have to own it.”
After winning the silver medal at the Olympics in August, Ko went into a bit of a swoon. She won five titles around the world in the first seven months of the season but struggled to get into contention over the final three months.
“Just because I wasn’t playing well, I couldn’t say it was my coaches’ fault,” Ko said. “I’ve played great with them.”
Ko did say she believed her swing had become too upright in the takeaway, with too pronounced a drop at the top of her swing, to a more shallow downswing.
Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com that Ko and her father began making swing changes, to a flatter swing, while on the Asian swing, changes he wasn’t aware they decided to make.
“After Evian, I did mention to my coaches that I wanted to be a touch flatter,” Ko said. “It didn’t mean I needed to be a straight, one-plane swing, just a touch flatter, so maybe the dropping motion would happen less in the downswing.
“When I was getting overly ‘droppy,’ that’s when I was hitting shots left and right. That’s what we were doing, so maybe if my swing was a touch flatter, I wouldn’t drop the club as much.”
Ko emphasized she valued her time with Leadbetter and Hogan, even as she played the fall Asian swing, struggling to make a move to a different takeaway while still working with Leadbetter.
“I learned a lot from David and Sean, and I really respect what they did for me on and off the course,” Ko said.
Ko showcased her equipment change from Callaway to PXG with an appearance Tuesday on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” flushing her first shot after going on air, nailing the bull’s-eye on the simulator with her new PXG 7-iron.
“I can’t beat that,” Ko said giddily throwing her arms in the air.
Ko hopes to end the year having hit the bull’s-eye with all her changes in 2017.