Leadbetter says IMG didn't force Ko coaching change
Lydia Ko's new coach, David Leadbetter, says he urged the "Mona Lisa" of women's golf to think carefully about changing coaches because of her success under former mentor Guy Wilson.
Leadbetter said Ko's mother, Tina, approached his associate, Sean Hogan, and said they were "looking for a coach in the US because, unfortunately, Lydia's coach [Wilson] is not going to be able to travel with her fulltime".
"We said to her, 'Are you sure you want to do this because obviously you've had such great success up to this point in time'," Leadbetter said.
"But it was almost at a point where they were insistent on the fact that they were looking for a new coach in the US and they wanted to have a base."
Leadbetter, who has coached other top women golfers, including current world No 2 Suzann Pettersen, is based at ChampionsGate in Florida, where he has "a great practice facility".
He said Ko spent three days there early last month and "lo and behold" went out and won her next tournament, the World Swinging Skirts Ladies Masters in Taiwan.
Leadbetter said the new coaching regime would not radically change Ko's style.
He likened her to the "Mona Lisa - you don't need to repaint that".
Suggestions so far had been "very cosmetic", including stepping a little closer to the ball and slight adjustments to her grip and a minor correction to a closed club face.
He described Ko, who "caught on very quickly", as "a treasure from your part of the world" who would be "treated with kid gloves".
Leadbetter told Radio Sport yesterday that he and Hogan, who would be Ko's chief "point person", would just "continue the good work that Guy Wilson has done".
"Obviously he's done a great job through the years, no question," he said.
"I'm sure if Guy was available and things were different and Guy was living in the States, there wouldn't have needed to be a change."
Leadbetter said he had spoken with Wilson "through the internet".
He said he could understand that the Auckland-based coach, who had become a close friend of the Ko family after coaching her since she was "5 or 6", might "deep down feel slighted to a certain extent", but it was "just the way of the world", with Ko moving from New Zealand to the United States.
"We'll certainly have contact with him and keep him abreast of what we think and get all his thoughts down," he said.
"You have to do that if you are going to go forward.
"The ultimate goal is to help Lydia. We're not trying to imprint our personality on her game. It wouldn't be the Leadbetter swing first day ... it's a matter of helping her reach her goals.
"We've had a lot of success through the years and I think we know how to handle different players different ways. With her, it's not going to be major stuff."
Leadbetter said IMG, Ko's new management company, "didn't have a lot to do" with the coaching change.
He said it was "a bit of misnomer" that he was also with IMG. His junior academy was managed by the company, but he wasn't.
He said the coaching change happened "prior to her joining IMG", so that "argument is really null and void".
Leadbetter said he thought Ko "seems to walk on water when she plays" and could "be an all-time great", with the potential to match Annika Sorenstam's record. The Swedish great won 72 LPGA titles, including 10 majors, and was an eight-time LGA tour player of the year.
Ko already had "such a great golf swing", a superb short game, an excellent temperament, was extremely confident and had no real weaknesses in her game, Leadbetter said.
He was with Pettersen at the Evian Championship in France last year where she and Ko had a "nip and tuck" battle for the title before the Norwegian golfer won.
"I was so impressed with Lydia; her demeanour on the golf course," Leadbetter said. "She's a very smart girl, very intelligent.
"She knows what she wants and what works for her.
"It's amazing when you watch her play, just the maturity she has ... If she paces herself and doesn't go too crazy and look to do it 24/7, she could just have an amazing career."
Leadbetter said he had told Tina Ko that the biggest thing she had to do was "pace [Lydia's] career", as some of the game's greats, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods included, had done.
He said Ko had "a tremendous work ethic", but young players had to be wary of practising and playing too much to avoid the risk of burnout or injury.
He said the Ko family were talking about playing no more than three consecutive tournaments and then taking a break.
Leadbetter, who worked with greats Nick Faldo and Ernie Els, said Ko had done remarkably well to reach No 4 in the world as an amateur playing a handful of tournaments.
There was "no question she's going to be No 1"; it was just a matter of when.
"It could be a couple of years from now; [there's] no rush."
He predicted she would "make the leap from amateur to pro golf easily".
The Leadbetter Academy coaches were already ribbing Pettersen about being the "old girl", saying she could, at 32, "be Lydia's mum".
"She doesn't like that," he quipped.
He predicted New Zealand women's golf could have "a real star" after Bob Charles and Michael Campbell had enjoyed success in the men's game.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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