Lydia Ko’s new coach has backed the teenage world No 1 to rise to the challenge posed to her hegemony at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, which begins in Palm Springs, California on Thursday.
The Seoul-born Kiwi is only 19 but having changed her coach, caddie, clubs and now her swing, some critics are asking whether her time at the top of the game is over. If Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn wins this week, KO’s run at the top of the rankings will come to an end after almost 18 months.
But Gary Gilchrist, who took over after Ko sacked the Englishman David Leadbetter in December, believes that his pupil will soon be back to her very best. Ko missed the cut at last week’s Kia Classic, where she was also the defending champion, but before that reeled off three top 10s in succession.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Gilchrist said. “She has one of the greatest minds and greatest attitudes in the game. She’s a breath of fresh air.”
Leadbetter lays the blame for the split firmly at the door of Ko’s parents and clearly believes the radical overhaul was their decision after she failed to win in the second half of the season. “They tell her when to go to bed, what to eat, what to wear, when to practise and what to practise,” he said. “And they expect her to win every tournament.”
However, Ko has been keen to stand up for her parents at Mission Hills Country Club. “They have been super supportive and I know that I couldn’t be here without them,” she said. Ko plays her first round in the company of the American Brittany Lincicombe, while Charley Hull, the English 21-year-old who finished runner-up behind Ko last year, partners Inn Gee Chun, the two-time major-winner from South Korea.