Pressure on Ko after quality coach axed

COACH SPLIT: Teenage star Lydia Ko has split with the only golf coach she's ever had.
COACH SPLIT: Teenage star Lydia Ko has split with the only golf coach she's ever had.

The unceremonious axing of longtime coach and close friend Guy Wilson raises plenty of questions but Lydia Ko has offered little in the way of answers.

With Ko refusing to comment to Fairfax Media yesterday and Wilson only talking through a carefully worded and surprisingly cordial statement, there is plenty of room for speculation as to why the hugely successful 11-year-old partnership was cut just weeks after 16-year-old Ko turned professional.

Ko did tell TVNZ the decision was all about Wilson not being able to travel, but Wilson has coached Ko remotely in the past and that was working.

Ko will work with United States-based Sean Hogan at David Leadbetter's Academy.

Last week it was announced Ko had signed with management giants IMG and this decision does have all the finance-over-friendship stink of a deal made with a multinational company, but the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Wilson, usually only too happy to comment on all matters Ko, has been strangely quiet for weeks. Ko, too, has remained tight-lipped on her coaching plans.

Last week, Ko replied to some questions via email, but none concerning Wilson.

In October she would not endorse Wilson as her long-term coach, saying the future was up in the air.

If this is a Ko decision, it seems an odd one. The pair have always seemed to get on well off the course and their success on it was first rate.

Ko was the world's No 1 amateur as a 13-year old, a title she held until turning professional. She won four professional tournaments as an amateur and one as a professional and has never missed a cut in any of her 27 professional tournaments.

She's brilliant and Wilson has played a huge part in that. It also continued while Ko was travelling and Wilson stayed in New Zealand.

If it's not Ko's decision, but one from IMG, then there is more reason to worry for New Zealand.

If IMG can persuade her to leave her longtime coach and someone with whom she shared more of a brother-sister relationship than a coach-player one, then what else can it do?

In October, Ko said she would always play for New Zealand and wanted to represent this country at the 2016 Olympics.

But should IMG start throwing its considerable weight around, what's to stop it working out it could get a far bigger bang for its buck in the Asian market if Ko played under the Korean flag and turned her back on New Zealand all together.

If IMG is calling the shots, it could happen.

Either way, Wilson comes out of this mess looking far better.

"Lydia's consistent and outstanding performance is the ultimate payback for any coach and it has been truly wonderful working with someone with her talent, dedication and focus," he said yesterday.

"I wish Lydia all the best and will watch proudly as she embarks on what I'm sure will be a hugely successful professional golfing career.

"While I'm incredibly disappointed that our 11-year partnership is over, I respect Lydia and her team's decision."

As a professional, Ko and her team are entitled to make any decision, tough or not, they think will help her career. But hers didn't need help.

Earlier this year, Wilson said there was still room for improvement in Ko's game and he, Ko and the team at the Institute of Golf were still making improvements.

Now the pressure really goes on Ko. She reached No 4 in the world with Wilson, despite playing about half the tournaments the players higher than her played. Using one ranking formula, she was already the best player in women's golf.

Should that drop under new coach Hogan, questions will rightly be asked.

"Fingers crossed nothing bad happens," Ko said.

The Press