Sport

Ly­dia Ko’s form slump prompts spec­u­la­tion about her cad­die turnover and the in­flu­ence of her par­ents on ev­ery as­pect of her life.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Paul Thomas

What’s be­hind Ly­dia Ko’s form slump?

At first as an am­a­teur and af­ter she turned pro­fes­sional in 2013, Ly­dia Ko took the golf world by storm. But she hasn’t won a tour­na­ment since July 2016. Less than a year ago, she was the top-ranked woman golfer; now she’s 15th. Her star has cer­tainly dimmed some­what, but there may be a ten­dency to for­get how brightly it shone and how much she has al­ready achieved:

In 2012, aged 14 years and nine months, Ko be­came the youngest per­son to win a pro­fes­sional golf tour­na­ment.

She was the world’s top-ranked woman am­a­teur golfer for 130 weeks and is the only am­a­teur to win two Ladies Pro­fes­sional Golf As­so­ci­a­tion (LPGA) tour events.

In Fe­bru­ary 2015, aged 17 years and nine months, she be­came the youngest player of ei­ther gen­der to be ranked No 1 in the world, a po­si­tion she held for 104 weeks.

Ko be­came the youngest woman to win a ma­jor cham­pi­onship and the youngest player – and only New Zealan­der – to win two ma­jors.

She was the first player in LPGA his­tory to win at least US$2 mil­lion in each of her first three full years on the tour.

Between Fe­bru­ary 2012 and March 2017, she missed just one cut in 93 LPGA tour events.

By the time she was 19, Ko had won 14 LPGA tour­na­ments. Only 38 play­ers in his­tory have won more.

In April 2014, aged 16, she was named one of Time’s 100 most in­flu­en­tial people in the world.

I could go on. Now, how­ever, the rise-and-rise nar­ra­tive is threat­en­ing to be­come rise-and-fall.

What hap­pened? Some as­cribe her form slump to her predilec­tion for chang­ing coaches and cad­dies; oth­ers be­lieve her par­ents ex­ert too much in­flu­ence. You could con­sol­i­date these the­o­ries into the propo­si­tion that the con­stant changes to her sup­port staff are a con­se­quence of her par­ents’ un­due in­flu­ence.

In late 2016, Ko shocked the golf­ing world by cut­ting ties with leg­endary coach David Lead­bet­ter. Their three-year as­so­ci­a­tion had de­liv­ered 12 LPGA vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing two ma­jors. Lead­bet­ter’s parting shot was care­fully aimed: “[Ko’s par­ents] tell her when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to prac­tise and what to prac­tise. And they ex­pect her to win ev­ery tour­na­ment … But they are naive about golf. And at some point they’ve got to let the bird fly from the nest. I would of­ten think, ‘It’s not easy coach­ing three people.’”

Lead­bet­ter’s stature en­sured this crit­i­cism was widely cir­cu­lated. How­ever, the odd com­men­ta­tor pointed out that Ko was go­ing off the boil be­fore the split and sug­gested that per­haps her strug­gles stemmed from his strat­egy of chang­ing a swing that had served her ex­ceed­ingly well. It also seems fair to as­sume that when Ko was tak­ing the world by storm, her par­ents were hav­ing a big say, too.

Her cad­die turnover is re­mark­able: she’s had 15 in five years, although

ad­mit­tedly seven were dis­carded in 2014 when things were on the up and up. Nev­er­the­less, it in­vites the sus­pi­cion of wil­ful­ness – ac­cord­ing to Lead­bet­ter, the tim­ing of the sack­ing of Ja­son Hamilton, who’d car­ried Ko’s bag for 10 vic­to­ries in two years, “didn’t make any sense” – and a ten­dency to look for a scape­goat when things don’t go ac­cord­ing to plan.

When Ko re­placed South African Gary Matthews in 2017, he com­plained about Team Ko’s lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and sug­gested she had a lot to learn about the golfer-cad­die re­la­tion­ship.

His replacement, Peter God­frey, lasted less than a year.

“[Ko’s par­ents] tell her when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to prac­tise and what to prac­tise.”

Ly­dia Ko: her be­hav­iour in­vites the sus­pi­cion of wil­ful­ness.

Leg­endary: David Lead­bet­ter.

Michael Camp­bell with the US Open tro­phy, 2005.

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