Plumb: Real Ko blow for coach Wilson from Lydia

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 29/12/2013
Lydia Ko
Getty Images
COACH SPLIT: Teenage star Lydia Ko has split with the only golf coach she's ever had.

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OPINION: There is more to emerge on Lydia Ko's controversial decision to sack Guy Wilson - the coach who took her from absolute beginner to record-breaking world-beater in 11 years.

Ko's call sent shockwaves around the global golfing community last week, with onlookers stunned by a sudden, ruthless edge to the smiling assassin - her bombshell dropped just two days before Christmas.

So far, neither party has said very much at all, which in itself is suspicious.

Ko, who is to be based in America, has cited geographical issues in continuing to work long-term with Auckland-based Wilson. Wilson meanwhile, who to his credit has handled the situation with dignity and calmness, has so far limited himself to a carefully phrased statement issued through his coaching business.

Coinciding with Ko penning what is sure to be a highly lucrative deal with global sports management powerhouse IMG, there is suspicion around how much influence has been exerted on the 16-year-old girl-turned-commodity - the investment which now requires protecting.

Opting against giving the proven partnership with Wilson even one season in the pro ranks seems an odd decision, particularly when considering the consistent and extreme success the combination has yielded.

Just as bizarrely, neither is it clear who exactly is going to coach Ko from now on.

Ko has claimed US-based Irishman Sean Hogan, who works for renowned English instructor David Leadbetter, is the chosen one, while Leadbetter's name has also been bandied around, yet Ko's agent at IMG, Michael Yim, reckons no coach has officially been identified yet.

The situation is a total mess and, ironically, the worst example of PR and athlete management since Ko's public affairs became the job of professionals instead of her family.

The behaviour of New Zealand Golf over the last week or so has also been interesting.

A few days ago I published a story suggesting Ko was close to signing a lucrative equipment deal with established American club-maker Callaway Golf.

Shortly after the piece was published on the Stuff.co.nz website, an email from NZ Golf's media man landed in my inbox: "I heard from Lydia last night and she was pretty stressed out . . . She had just read your article about her possible sponsorship with Callaway . . . She was not happy to read about it . . . Lydia has asked me to ask if this story can be taken down . . ."

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It was odd for a number of reasons, though mainly, why was NZ Golf's media man making this request, not Ko's management? (For the record, neither Callaway nor IMG have made contact and the article remains on the website.)

Also, chief executive of NZ Golf, Dean Murphy, whom I know quite well, was interviewed on TV during a piece on Ko's split with Wilson (in which, interestingly, Ko was decked out in all-Callaway gear . . .).

While most, including a "baffled" Steve Williams, were expressing at least an ounce of shock and confusion over Ko's coaching decision, Murphy was portrayed as being in the Ko camp almost - downplaying it all even as "it just seems logical".

Being that Ko now has professional management and PR people working for her, perhaps NZ Golf, a taxpayer-funded entity which has a raft of serious issues on its plate including the very survival of a number of struggling clubs up and down the country, should be focusing its efforts elsewhere and not acting as PR manager for a professional athlete.

Whatever the full facts are behind the coaching split, time will, inevitably, draw all that out.

But more immediately, one thing's for sure. From an athlete management perspective this whole situation has backfired spectacularly, leaving a 16-year-old girl in the full, blinding spotlight of the global media.

- Sunday News

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