Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Golf: Split with coach foretold months ago

Guy Wilson and Lydia Ko were a familiar sight on golf courses. Photo / Getty Images
Guy Wilson and Lydia Ko were a familiar sight on golf courses. Photo / Getty Images

Lydia Ko's decision to part ways with coach Guy Wilson after turning professional has been under consideration for at least 10 months.

An email to the Herald on Sunday earlier this year shows Ko's camp had discussed the situation as long ago as February.

The email, from a source close to Ko, said she had the right "to meet other experts and coaches around the world [be]cause of her amazing talent."

The message said Wilson's role in Ko's development was appreciated but it would be wise not to portray him as "a life partner" because "Guy has his own career plan and life too and so does Lydia".

The email tends to support the pre-Christmas statement of new coaches David Leadbetter and Sean Hogan that the Ko camp approached them about replacing Wilson.

When approached in February, Wilson responded by email: "Any suggestion that we are no longer working together is news to me. Lydia has a busy year ahead and we have been working hard to ensure that she is as prepared as possible to play in some of the biggest golf events around the world.

I am looking forward to playing a part in that and helping Lydia in her transition to becoming a successful professional.

"My role as a coach is to in the end make my job redundant, so a player can rely on themselves. This is what I have been doing by not caddying and travelling to every event. However, there is still a big part to play whilst she is at events in an offline role."

The Herald on Sunday decided against running a story as there was clearly no impending parting at the time. However, since Wilson's departure, that February email has become more significant in revealing the thinking in the Ko camp and may deflect some of the impetus for the move from her new IMG management team (though they seem likely to have supported it for their own reasons).

Ko's relationship with Wilson appeared pivotal to her success. There was a trust which will be hard to replicate like the pair challenging each other to hula hoop contests at training, pitching and putting for hamburgers and Wilson, who has a fear of heights, eventually accepting the dare of a bungy jump after her original Canadian Open win.

Since the coaching split story broke on Monday, Wilson hasn't commented other than to release a measured statement including lines such as, "while I'm incredibly disappointed that our 11-year partnership is over, I respect Lydia and her team's decision."

He's understood to be considering speaking to media in more detail this week, possibly after a function Ko is hosting to thank her closest supporters.

Wilson and Ko are also expected to be strong contenders for Halberg awards in the respective coach and sportswoman categories on February 13.

Ko's decision to turn professional was the catalyst for accepting a coach from an IMG-recommended stable, given she will be based overseas. Judging by his February response, Wilson was prepared for change at some point and Ko is unlikely to be the last youngster he helps.

The Institute of Golf, where Wilson works, is a business with a proven record in such development. Ko's relationship over the past four years has provided them with ample goodwill.

An example is the framed photo hanging in IoG's entrance hallway.

Ko holds her first LPGA trophy from the Canadian Open which is almost as large as her torso. A couple of Canadian Mounties assist on either side. Inscribed on the photo in black felt pen is a message: "Thank you IoG. Amazing 2012! What a team. LK"

She has lent IoG authority but, as founder Craig Dixon told the Herald on Sunday in September, they couldn't afford to rely on her as the sole drawcard with a professional career looming.

"You can't base a business model on an individual," Dixon said. "We're lucky to work with 'Lyds' but our job is simple - provide services which enable her to play the game to the highest level, just like anyone. We provide her with the coaching but don't presume to have any other form of control.

"A lot of people - maybe all except Guy - didn't realise how good she was going to be. She came to us at the perfect time to benefit from physiotherapy and mental and physical conditioning. On her arrival (aged 12), we did a massive swing overhaul so, when she was older and stronger, she'd be able to perform at the highest level. We're stoked; we feel like we've helped her as a team."

Businessman and philanthropist Sir David Levene has, since early last year, contributed to a New Zealand Golf-administered trust which covered Ko's expenses. Levene did not want to comment on the coaching situation other than to clarify his investment was only up until Ko became a professional.

- Herald on Sunday

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