Fred Woodcock: Ko's switch proves a PR disaster
Brand Ko made its first PR blunder this week.
Whether or not you agree with Team Ko's decision to axe the only coach she's ever had, Aucklander Guy Wilson, for American-based Brit David Leadbetter, the timing is off, it was poorly handled, and we can only hope this is not how Ko is going to operate under the management of IMG.
There are so many unanswered questions surrounding this coaching switch – Why now? Who made the call? Is IMG behind this? (to pose just a few) – but nobody is willing to answer them.
Ko conducted one television interview and, let's be honest, TV news clips are more about getting grabs than getting to the bottom of stories. It's led to a whole lot of speculation and some quite emotional responses from fans on social media and talkback radio.
IMG reportedly claim the story has been blown out of proportion and dramatised. Well, whose fault is that? They have a reputation for being the biggest and best management company when it comes to golf but judging by this, it's hard to agree.
As far as informed comment goes, Kiwi men's No 1 Mike Hendry, caddie Steve Williams and former PGA Tour pro, now commentator, Craig Perks are among those who have voiced concerns over Ko's call.
Rightly or wrongly, Wilson has essentially been pushed off Hillary Step with the summit to Mt Everest in clear sight.
He coached Ko for 11 years, ever since her family moved to the North Shore from South Korea and Ko took up the sport, during which time she became the world No 1 amateur for three consecutive years, and rose to No 4 in the world rankings.
She won five professional titles while under Wilson's guidance, four of them as an amateur. Her record, as an amateur, is second-to-none and she's the hottest property in women's golf.
It seems only a matter of time before she wins majors and reaches No 1.
Wilson and Ko became incredibly tight; they were almost like big brother-little sister. Wilson was always mindful of keeping golf fun for his charge, and the results spoke for themselves. Technically Ko is a brilliant golfer and she has the mentality to match.
As her record suggests the duo seemed to work well as a partnership and you wonder why Ko and/or her team felt the need to change at this stage in her career.
They've managed pretty well with a "long-distance relationship" so far and with technology the way it is, being separated for long periods of time is not a deal breaker.
Had Wilson taken her as far as he could? Did she need fresh ideas and opinions?
If Ko doesn't continue to rise at the same rapid pace during the coming months, questions will be asked, much as they were when Rory McIlroy switched club manufacturers at the very height of his game a year ago.
Leadbetter is the only person that seems happy to talk about the move.
He and Sean Hogan, a Leadbetter staff instructor and swing specialist, won't be afraid to make changes but they aren't exactly looking to overhaul Ko's swing, he told the Golf Channel's website this week.
Ko, in fact, visited him in Orlando for three days last month, expressing her concern that she would sometimes hit a hook when under pressure.
According to Leadbetter, they addressed the issue and Ko then went out and won the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in Taiwan. He also told the website Ko had no weaknesses and his team's job would be about guidance and keeping her on track.
Perhaps his most astute comment, however, was when he acknowledged: "If she plays well, it will be because she's a great player. If she doesn't, we will be the bad guys."
Truer words were never spoken.
WHO IS DAVID LEADBETTER?
- Born in England, he wasn't much of a player but he moved to the United States and has become one of the leading golf coaches in the world. He now runs a chain of international academies.
- Shot to prominence in the 1980s when he rebuilt the swing of Nick Faldo, who went on to win six majors and become the world No 1.
- He's also worked with, at various times, Greg Norman and Ernie Els, as well as former teen prodigy Michelle Wie.
- He was ranked second to Butch Harmon on the 2005-2006 edition of Golf Digest's list of the "50 Greatest Teachers" in the United States.