Lydia Ko didn’t go with any of the biggest names in coaching in the latest revamp of her team.
While Ted Oh’s name should be familiar to golf fans, he isn’t a top 100 teacher.
A former rival to Tiger Woods in the junior ranks, he is a relative newcomer to the coaching ranks, though he is proving more than a quick study.
Ko quietly left Gary Gilchrist in January to enlist Oh’s help in getting ready for her first start of 2018, which she’s making this week at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. She was with David Leadbetter before Gilchrist. They’re two of the biggest names in coaching.
So why Oh?
Ko hasn’t addressed that just yet. Her camp appears to be trying to low-key her start to 2018, after all the scrutiny she received making sweeping changes going into last year, which ended as her first winless year since she began playing LPGA events as a 15-year-old.
Her changes, however, got the attention of New Zealand’s own Bob Charles, who counts The Open in 1963 among his six PGA Tour titles. He told New Zealand’s Fairfax Media Wednesday that he was puzzled by all the changes she has made to her game the last two years.
“It doesn’t thrill me at all,” Charles said. “Perhaps it thrills her to be chopping and changing. I’m from the old school. You figure it out yourself. You go with what you’ve got and not somebody else.”
It might hearten Charles to know that Oh considers himself old school, too.
Oh, 41, told GolfChannel.com that he didn’t overhaul Ko’s swing in their work getting ready for this season.
“Her mechanics were already great,” Oh said. “It was more fine-tuning things. It was more about sequence, tempo and balance and a lot of practice.
“We worked a lot on her scoring clubs, her short irons and wedges and shots around the green. We spent hours and hours with the scoring clubs.”
Ko was second in LPGA scoring average in 2015 and ’16. She dropped to 10th last year.
So what led Ko to Oh?
Michael Yim is the common denominator. Yim is Ko’s agent. He was also the first agent Oh ever worked with, when Oh turned pro coming out of UNLV.
Oh was a teen sensation, growing up in the same “golf neighborhood” as Woods in Southern California. Woods was from Cypress, Oh from Long Beach. Woods and Oh were 1-2 atop in the U.S. junior ranks for a spell.
Back in 1993, Oh burst into the national spotlight, qualifying for the U.S. Open at Baltusrol. He was 16. That made him the youngest player in more than 50 years to qualify for that major. His locker that week was right next to Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. He played a practice round with Seve Ballesteros.
Ted Oh during the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol (Getty Images)
Ultimately, Oh never broke through to make it to the PGA Tour. He played the Web.com Tour for three years late in the ‘90s, back when it was called the Nike Tour. He eventually made his way to the Asian Tour, the Korean PGA Tour and Japan Golf Tour, where he carved out a good living for his family there. He played overseas until late in 2016, when a bad elbow and knee led him to start searching for another way to make a living.
“I came back to the States, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Oh said. “A coaching job came out of nowhere.”
Oh adapted quickly when an offer came.
Born in Korea, Oh moved to the United States when he was 7. But his overseas ties, with all his Asian playing experience, led him back over there for his first meaningful tour-level coaching experience.
Oh was recruited to help Ha Na Jang on the LPGA’s fall Asian swing late in 2016. Jang won the Fubon Taiwan Championship the second week he was out with her.
Today, Oh works out of Indian Palms Country Club in Indio, Calif. He’s overseeing an Asian golf camp there this week.
Oh got a call from Ko’s camp late last year to see if he would be a “second set of eyes” for Ko in Phoenix, where she decided to do her offseason training, near the PXG headquarters. Apparently, they made a strong connection, because Oh ended up staying five weeks, devoting himself full time to helping Ko in boot-camp-style preparation for the new season. He said they worked nine-hour days together, five days a week.
“The days would have been longer, but the sun went down,” Oh said.
Oh’s old-school style is based on work, feeling shots in lots and lots of practice. It’s something that likely resonated with Ko, who impressed Gilchrist with her work ethic and commitment to long hours of practice.
Oh wasn’t just coaching Ko. He was playing and practicing with her. If she was in the bunker hitting shots, he was in the bunker hitting shots.
“I told Lydia I’m very old school, nothing fancy,” Oh said. “I said only about 25 percent of my job will be drawing lines on video and that sort of thing, that 75 percent would be about the practice.
“I told her ‘I’m not going to tell you how to practice, I’m going to be with you.’”
That’s how Oh believes a player develops the feel for shots.
Ko will be looking to develop that feel into a bounce back year.