The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

*This article is written in response to Deep in the Rough written by Kevin Van Valkenburg via ESPN

There have been many stories circulating about the state of Lydia Ko’s game over the past year. It’s been fascinating to read all of the various opinions circulating regarding her game.

I worked with Lydia Ko from November 2013 until December 2016. Working with Lydia was a really great experience for myself and my colleague, Sean Hogan. She was an absolute dream student who was a star player before we even laid eyes on her.

When Lydia and her family decided to leave her former coach from New Zealand, Guy Wilson, we were very honored that they asked us to take her under our wing. Guy did a great job coaching her and it was just a shame that he wasn’t able to travel to America.

When Sean and I began plotting a path for Lydia, we were conscious of the fact that she was a wonderful putter and had a great short game. She was a fader of the ball and as a result, although very consistent, she did not have a lot of power. We went about making changes to her swing slowly. The signs were good when she won the very next tournament, The Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, after a week.

When Lydia worked with Sean and me, she achieved tremendous success. Following her first win on tour in 2014, she went on to win the Marathon Classic, CME Group Tour Championship, and the LPGA Rookie of the Year. Her success continued in 2015 when she went on to win the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, defended her title at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, the Evian Championship, and the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship.

Needless to say, the relationship was going great and the Ko’s were excited to keep it going for obvious reasons. The changes that we implemented in her swing were based on getting her a neutral club-face as opposed to a closed one. We also worked on developing a right to left game as opposed to left to right. Her swing became more efficient and better synchronized where her arms and body would work more in unison. She took to it like a duck to water. Judging by the results of the next 1.5 years, we were very comfortable with the knowledge that we had worked on the right things to improve her game. In my mind, nobody, including Tiger Woods, had a better start to their professional career. She became the world’s youngest No. 1 player and remained so for 84 weeks.

Lydia really felt at home in Championsgate and in many ways, it was a great getaway for her from the stresses of tournament play. Her continued success was amazing to many observers although there was criticism aimed at us [the coaches] for promoting our ‘A Swing’ technique. What many people didn’t understand, was that the A Swing, which was a commercial name for a book we published, was for the most part technique that had worked in the early years with Sir Nick Faldo and Nick Price, amongst many others. It was adapted to Lydia in order to make her swing more efficient. If you looked at the statistics, especially greens in regulation, this proved to be true. It was a very simple approach, one she understood and had minimal maintenance.

The A Swing essentially is getting the club into a position on the backswing where the body can really work in an efficient manner. Providing maximum power and delivering the club to the ball which produces a natural draw. We honestly felt like this was the best approach for Lydia, because not being the strongest player, it provided natural energy to her swing.

In 2016, she started off the year unbelievably well and was heading for another record-breaking year. Winning the Kia Classic, ANA Inspiration, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and Marathon Classic in the years’ time.

She had a very busy schedule in 2016, including the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, in our opinion, Lydia’s schedule was such that a lot of fatigue and tiredness had set in. Somehow through it all, she managed to win a silver medal, despite the fact that she was physically and mentally exhausted – a classic symptom of burnout. Having mustered every bit of energy she could to win her medal, the last quarter of the year was pretty much a write-off.

Along with all of this, her father, a non-accomplished golfer, heard rumors that she needed to change her swing and made suggestions to Lydia to change it – independently of her coaches. Sean Hogan traveled with her to the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship during the last part of the season and observed Lydia being very confused [with her swing].

Amazingly enough, despite all of this, she had an excellent chance of remaining No. 1 in the world with a solid finish at the last tournament of the year. She shot 62 (10 under par) in the second round and things seemed to be on track. Her last round, unfortunately, was very average and she just lost out on winning the LPGA Player of the Year.

In this day and age, we have ways of measuring energy output in the swing. In the last quarter of the year, she had lost 20% of her energy which could only mean one thing – complete fatigue. Unfortunately, to the unknowledgeable, this can be misconstrued as experiencing swing issues. Well, you will have swing issues when you’re too fatigued to workout, practice, and are mentally drained. At the end of the year, she and her “team” decided that even though she had won five tournaments including a Major earlier in the year, that they wanted to move on.

This was obviously perfectly within their rights to do so, but it was a shame considering the success that she had with Sean and I. We were very close with Lydia and we were sad about the separation. However, life goes on.

The toughest thing from our standpoint is to see the deterioration in her game compared to her first three years as a professional. We might not have all of the answers, but she certainly was on track to become one of the greatest LPGA players of all time. Hopefully, Lydia is able to resurrect her game. She obviously still has the talent, but it’s not always an easy task to climb back up the mountaintop. Lydia is a great young lady, we only wish the best for her. We honestly felt that if the decision was left entirely up to her, that she would still be with us. Not only did Lydia change her swing and putting coaches, but also her equipment company (Callaway), caddy, workout coach, sports psychologist, and putting grip company. So many changes can be extremely hard to absorb. This year, she even changed her swing coach and caddy once again!

In a nutshell, it is an interesting story. One that will probably have more questions than answers. Lydia can certainly win more tournaments, even Majors, but there’s no possible way that she can play better than she played for those first three years. It just goes to show, that not always is the grass greener on the other side of the hill!