Lydia Ko turned 21 on Tuesday with a list of achievements so long you might struggle to name another athlete worthy of comparison at the same milestone.

In golf, even the feats of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy at 21 don't come close to those compiled by the extraordinary New Zealander.

You'd think this would be a day of universal celebration therefore, with the sport coming together to acclaim the Special One.

Read more: Ex-coach reveals real reason for Ko's fall from grace


Instead, we find a tableau of bitter in-fighting, as the blame is passed around regarding Ko's startling fall from previous heights over the past 12 months.

So bad has it become that the urbane British coach David Leadbetter, who guided Ko to all her 14 titles in America, plus her two major triumphs — but who was sacked unceremoniously in late 2016 — felt it necessary to defend his reputation last week following a truly ugly slur.

First, though, a reminder of what she has achieved, for it's no exaggeration to say the feats Ko racked up as a teenager constitute a fantastic career.

In 2012, at the age of 14, she became the youngest person to win a professional golf tournament.

The only player to win two LPGA events while still an amateur, she was the world's top-ranked amateur for 130 weeks.

In February 2015, aged 17 years and nine months, she became the youngest player of either gender to become world No 1, a position she held for exactly two years.

Between February 2012 and March 2017 she played in 93 LPGA events and missed one cut. She also won two majors consecutively, one with a final round 63 — a record score by a woman in a Grand Slam event.

In April 2014, aged 16, Time magazine named her as one of their 100 most influential people in the world.

The feats of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy at 21 don't come close to Lydia Ko. Photo / Photosport
The feats of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy at 21 don't come close to Lydia Ko. Photo / Photosport

In short, therefore, she seemed the story that could not go wrong but it has, in no uncertain terms. It's as if she's morphed into another player entirely since leaving her teenage years behind. Ko hasn't added to her list of tournament victories since July 2016, and the player who seemed destined to be No 1 for a decade has now fallen outside the top 15.

Attention has turned instead to a list of hirings and firings so comprehensive it appears almost wilful. In three years as a pro, Ko has gone through no fewer than 11 caddies. Another coach has come and gone since Leadbetter was sacked.

In a recent piece in ESPN The Magazine, it was intimated that Leadbetter changed Ko's swing to promote a book he had written, an extraordinary allegation that certainly didn't sound like the man I've known for 25 years. No wonder he came out swinging, with a lengthy rebuttal laying the blame in turn at the feet of her father — a 'non-accomplished golfer,' in Leadbetter's withering description, who tried to change her swing without any discussion with her coach, and left her 'very confused'.

This year, with another new coach in former PGA Tour pro Ted Oh and another new caddie in Johnny Scott, who worked for Laura Davies for many years, Ko has six finishes of 33rd or better in seven starts, but only one top-15 placing.

Hopefully, after such a period of upheaval, it's the start of her working her way back. Ko once said she thought she'd retire at 30 and go into the field of sports psychology. At 21, she certainly couldn't have had any better training than her own tumultuous experiences.

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