Famous Swing Coach Leadbetter Thinks Ko’s Mind Divided
David Leadbetter doesn’t have to shout in the streets about his gifts as a swing coach, at least not anymore – if he ever did. He has one gold standard resume as the man who helped put it all together for Lydia Ko, perhaps the greatest youth sensation of her age, in an era of young greats. Ko has an established reputation as a warm human being, and as a golfer who has her wits about her whenever she plays – no ditziness, no confusion or hesitation, no serious self-repercussions except working hard to fix whatever ails her on any given round.
This beautiful combination of swing coach and great player has recently experienced a break-up, and even though both are handling it without rancor, there are issues and a variety of opinions. Leadbetter cites what he believes may be some difficulties with growing up, but not being allowed to. Much is written about the high Asian work ethic, and high parent-to-child expectations. A North American might not understand that such a close and intense bond does not necessarily end at the age of 18, or 21. Parents who have worked hard to maintain their children’s early careers don’t just give a final push and walk away. They continue to be parents, up front and personal. Ko has come out of her 20s after a rip-roaring teen experience, winning LPGA tournaments at 14 as a magical beginning. One isn’t expected to win at that age among such great company, so it was all icing. The pressure was different. Ko had a good time, but as Leadbetter pointed out, at some point, what was once carefree and fun becomes your job. Then the pressure changes, even if you already have enough money to last a lifetime.
In the last few months, Ko has demonstrated an unusual quality for the first time – indecision. She has at times second-guessed club selection, course strategy, and seems to have lost for the moment the air of invincibility. Her father wanted that gold medal badly, we are told, and his daughter came home with silver. According to those who follow championship Asian families in sports such as golf, it is the expectation to win every tournament, even though everyone knows that isn’t possible. According to some observers, Ko still has a bedtime, a presecribed diet, wardrobe, and many other components of life that 20-somethings typically take over for themselves at some point. Leadbetter has seen it before when he worked with Se Ri Pak, and got the feeling that he was dealing with three people. The coach suggests that he had some of the same feelings with Michelle Wie and her closest circle. He adds that at one point, Ko’s father entered the realm of swing technique, and introduced some problems into the mix.
We have no way of knowing what the reality is inside Ko’s family life, and we shouldn’t make much of an effort to find out. It’s her deal to work out, not ours. However, from my time in performance professions, and watching young golfers’ families become giddy about the potential of a decade down the road, the closely involved parent is an immense force, and can cut both ways in a young player’s development. Every child who reaches the age of 20 knows that being told what to do feels completely different than it did ten years before, and no matter what the magic of the family dynamic, somehwere in the 20-year-old brain, one or two cells are asking “Where am I in all of this?”
I hope that Ko and Leadbetter stay friends who can pick up the phone sometime not too far down the road. They’ve been good to and for one another. He misses working with someone who is so friendly, but the work he’s already done with her and her game amount to a masterpiece. Still, it could be all in the family,