Monday, December 23, 2013

The World Is a Big Place Files: Lydia Ko Edition

So it seems Lydia Ko has split with Guy Wilson, her coach of 11 years.  Alarm bells are ringing for Geoff Shackelford, who's already shaping up a story of how IMG and David Leadbetter are about to ruin another young phenom.  But what if this is just about what Ko told New Zealand TV this is about?
With Wilson remaining in New Zealand and unable to join her throughout the 2014 LPGA Tour, the decision was a logical one for Ko.
"I'm going to be away from home and I'm not a player that likes to (not) have my coach out at tournaments, so it doesn't really work, him being here and him coming on the weeks that I'm not playing a tournament," Ko told ONE Sport at the Gulf Ha[r]bour Country Club today.
"That means I'd only see him like 10 times a year and to me that kind of situation didn't work out so that's why I thought it might be better to have a coach based somewhere in the States."
I mean, as Ji-Yai Shin's and Momoko Ueda's recent decisions to focus on the JLPGA make clear, the world is a big place.  Here's how Ko put it to TVNZ:  "Playing on the LPGA Tour it's going to be hard coming back home. Obviously it's so far to get from here to anywhere apart from Australia."  So unless Wilson is willing to uproot himself and move halfway around the world to keep coaching Ko, how can their partnership continue?  Wilson himself sounds a lot more resigned and accepting (or at least diplomatic) in the New ZealandAustralian, and Canadian media than in the U.S. media (although Golfweek has Wilson's complete statement).

Kris Shannon looks at the decision from both sides, calling the split "inevitable" but questioning the timing and possible repercussions on Ko's swing and game: 
Set to spend next season on the LPGA Tour, Ko will be based overseas for much of the year, but she already had a hectic travel schedule during her unprecedented amateur career. 
"I'm sad to hear it because they can do most of the coaching over the phone, with all the videos and different stuff," Lister said. "If [Wilson] was to see her once every three or four months, it would be plenty. She doesn't need somebody every day. 
"I'd be very reluctant to be changing anything with Lydia. She's done pretty damn well with what she's doing, and if it ain't broke don't go and fix it."
Ko herself is well aware of possible pitfalls but hopes to avoid them:
 "It's going to be a huge change. Swing-wise obviously not every coach has the same swing technique but even my parents and I said we don't want huge changes, just little changes, that if someone else saw my swing they wouldn't know that anything's changed. 
"Golf isn't really all about having the perfect swing, it's about getting out there and scoring well as well." 
She remains undaunted by stories about players falling on hard times after changing coaches and insists such speculation does not apply to her situation with Wilson. 
"Not really. I've heard those rumours and Tweets where people say lots of people have left their coaches after they've succeeded and stuff, but to me it's not like I left him because he was a bad coach. 
"It was because that situation, we knew there was going to be a problem. I know it's a change but fingers crossed that nothing bad happens."
The fact is, you never know how changes like these are going to turn out.  I'm reminded of how the size of the planet played a role in Ji-Yai Shin's slow-motion split with her long-time caddie Dean Herden back in 2011.

Bottom line is that it's Ko's career and her decision.  If she's convinced a long-distance relationship won't work for her, better to act on that conviction than draw out the transition.  It seems to me that all outsiders and onlookers can do is wish both Ko and Wilson the best.

[Update 1 (8:57 am):  Stevie Williams, a friend of Wilson's, strongly criticizes Ko's decision.]

[Update 2 (9:09 am):  I can only hope Lydia and her parents each have great Christmas presents for Wilson and that IMG is ponying up serious severance pay for him!]

[Update 3 (9:31 am):  Ladies on Tour notes that Ko's mother was talking about finding a U.S.-based coach at the CME Titleholders.]

[Update 4 (9:51 am):  Brent Kelley has a good overview.  But is nobody else seeing that Lydia mentions Sean Hogan by name in that TVNZ story?]

[Update 5 (11:16 am):  Randall Mell just tweeted:  "Just off phone w/ David Leadbetter, Lydia Ko will work w/ him & Sean Hogan of his staff. 'It's about guiding, not re-inventing the swing.'"]

[Update 6 (11:50 am):  Here's Emily Kay's Steve Williams-centered overview.]

[Update 7 (12:28 pm):  So much for this being a sudden decision.  There was even pre-decision blowback before Thanksgiving in the NZ media.]

[Update 8 (8:03 pm):  Randall Mell covers reaction from Kiwi Nation and statements from David Leadbetter.]

[Update 9 (8:07 pm):  And here's Stephanie Wei's recap.]


Dave Andrews said...

It would have been a surprise if Lydia's new IMG management team had suggested a coach other than David Leadbetter (and his team) to work with her.
She is a huge property now and will be heavily managed from here on out. I just hope the decision to change coaches was hers and she is not being overly controlled.
I'd also like to know if Guy Wilson believes he could not give her enough of his attention because of the distance that now separates him.
"If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" is an adage I hope the Leadbetter team will follow with her.

The Constructivist said...

She mentioned that Sean Rosen will be her new coach, btw.

I asked Wilson that very question via twitter just now....