As Lydia Ko prepares to grace us with her presence for another year of women's golf, she announced that she had found herself a new coach. David Leadbetter got the cut after an LPGA season that can't really be viewed as disappointing with Ko still finishing 2nd in the major rankings, although as the season came to an end it became clear that something needed to change as Ko lacked the consistency that had made her such a force on tour.
Ko has decided to go with a South African joker named Gary Gilchrist and this is a funky decision for bunch of different reasons. Gilchrist sharpened his coaching ability at the David Leadbetter International Golf Academy, working with Leadbetter and numerous PGA players before moving to the IMG David Leadbetter Junior Golf Academy and then had a stint at a similar academy (International Junior Golf Academy). Obviously with Ko's former coach Leadbetter getting the cut, it's funky that she has opted to roll with a coach who has such strong ties to Leadbetter and effectively developed as a coach under Leadbetter.
Apparently Gilchrist places a strong emphasis on mental skills and his personal academy (Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy) ensures that young athletes spend plenty of time in the classroom and not just on the fairways.
Step in Ariya Jutanugarn, the Thailand golfer who tasted victory at Ko's expense last year. Gilchrist was a major force behind Jutanugarn's dominance and he will continue to work with Jutanugarn while trying to get Ko back to the top as well.
What's interesting here is that Gilchrist and Jutanugarn teamed up in January 2016, with Gilchrist telling LPGA.com that much of his work with Jutanugarn was mental...
“She had lost a lot of confidence and was not enjoying playing and competing and had no confidence in driving the ball. I started by encouraging her because I could see that she was very talented, but was lost and had very little belief in her game. Her self-talk was negative, telling me she had fear especially in her tee shots.”
Jutanugarn conveniently then went on to push past Ko and finish the year as the best female golfer on the planet, so here we are early in 2017 and Ko has spent January sussing out what Gilchrist could offer her game. While it's all different strokes for different folks, hearing Ko talk about not making major changes to her golf swing could suggest that she is looking for a similar mental advantage to what Gilchrist gave Jutanugarn.
Obviously Ko is supremely confident in her game, however she is coming off a poor finish to last season and it's timely that she has brought in a coach who places an emphasis on fine-tuning confidence, fun and mental strength on the golf course. The proof is in the pudding and Gilchrist has shown that he can take a quality golfer's game to greater heights quickly, so I suspect we are going to see Ko bounce back and develop a very friendly yet competitive rivalry with Jutanugarn.