Date: February 16, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Ko clearly on the right track

Lydia Ko was only eighteen when she took Royal Melbourne apart in the 2015 Australian Open, a performance clearly identifying her as the best player in the world.

John Lister, the fine New Zealand pro and Bob Macdonald a local club pro had taught her the strategy of the game when she was still a child and Guy Wilson, her teacher, had crafted, obviously, a very effective method.

She worked beyond hard at the game and developed a touch so fine she could pitch the ball onto a ten-cent piece from seventy meters. And she could putt.

Transitioning to the tour and moving to America is somewhat of a problem if your teacher lives in New Zealand but after ten years of instruction, Wilson had presumably given her skills of self-analysis and self-correction.

And in this age of a slow motion video of the swing on a mobile phone it’s not complicated to send it across the other side of the world if there is a question or the need for some reassurance.

Jack Nicklaus would tune up with his boyhood coach Jack Grout each American winter before the tour started, check the basics and making sure nothing was too far away.

Nicklaus was self-reliant, a thinker who could deconstruct a problem and correct it on his own. This though is a different time and teachers have become indispensible to most tour players.

Ko moved to the United States and hired David Leadbetter, the man justifiably credited with transforming the swings of Nick Faldo and Nick Price, two players every one of their contemporaries would pick at the top of the list of players you would want hitting an iron into the 72nd green of a major championship with it all on the line.

Leadbetter had a new theory, the A swing, and a book to sell and set about ingraining it into Ko’s DNA.  Some would say he was experimenting on the best player in the world and that is always going to open a teacher up to a torrent of criticism, deserved or not.

I was bound to have a prejudice against the method because, in part, it involved setting the shaft on a vertical plane on the backswing but my judgment of the method was clouded by the fact I had always played with, and hated, a vertical shaft on the backswing.

Indeed when I had seen Leadbetter for lessons in the mid-1980s he had encouraged me to set the shaft on more of an inclined plane and his explanation of the reasons made perfect sense to me. To see the transformation in his views was surprising to say the least.

In fairness Price too had played with the vertical shaft going back followed by the inevitable flattening or looping of the club from the top in order to get it in a playable position on the downswing.

The Leadbetter experiment didn’t work as hoped and she then went to Gary Gilchrist, another teacher with a history of working with good players including another former number one, Yani Tseng. Tseng was battling the driver yips and trying to solve the curse of them is no fun. Just ask Ian Baker-Finch or Hank Haney who dealt with Tiger Woods’ driver struggles for years.

Ko has changed coaches again, this time to former tour player, the California based, Ted Oh.

I still have on my phone a picture of Lydia’s backswing on the range at the Olympic Games in Rio where she won the silver medal playing some clearly very good golf.

To my eye the position of the club halfway up the backswing looked awful but she was so talented she could make any method work with some effectiveness because she plays golf so well.

Always jaunty she deals with everything thrown her way and she is never going to beat herself by complaining, blaming anything or anyone but herself, giving up or losing her temper. Think Peter Thomson.

Her second round at Kooyonga was all over the place, a mix of five birdies, four of them in a run from the third where she hit a beautiful iron close at the par 3 to the ninth and seven bogeys, four of them in a row from the 11th.

She hit an inexplicably miserable quick hook off the 11th, and an equally bad middle iron into the 12th, which finished in the bush long and left of the green. A short iron pitched into the 13th missed the green, as did the iron into the short but difficult par three 14th.

It’s probably been a long time since she made four consecutive bogeys but the backswing looked to be much better and whilst that bad run probably cruelled her winning chances the evidence to my eye seemed to point to her absolutely being on the right road and eighteen months ago at the Olympic Games I’d have said the exact opposite.