David Leadbetter on coaching Michelle Wie and Lydia KoNovember, 2014
Meet the coach behind Wie, Suzann Pettersen and Ko
What has been the difference with US Open champion Michelle Wie this year?
The transformation happened at the Solheim Cup where she really got energised. Even though they lost she played quite well, she lets things go in that matchplay situation and that suits her personality.
And then she took, for the first time in her life, let alone her career, six weeks off. We gave her some exercises to do in the gym but she didn’t hit a ball and she came out all guns blazing and she has played unbelievably.
We all knew how much talent she had but with injuries, bad planning and lack of motivation, it didn’t happen. Now mentally she has the passion, she loves playing. If you had asked me 18 months ago I would have said she has the talent but she couldn’t care less about the game.
Do you also get involved in the non-technical side?
I have known her since she was 13 and it’s tough. There is a cultural aspect, a work ethic that has been drilled into her by her family and in golf that can lead to mental and physical burnout. There is no rule book in learning how to handle a child prodigy.
I am now working with Lydia Ko and getting her to talk to Michelle about any possible pitfalls. You have got to pace yourself and get balance in your life. You can’t go at it every day eight to 10 hours a day. You need a mental and physical break to recharge.
Lydia Ko is still only 17 and third in the world – how much will you try and change her swing?
You are always looking at the big picture, not just next week. We have made some subtle changes in the swing. She is fairly slightly built so length is a factor and will be more so in the years to come with better athletes so we’ve changed her ball flight from left to right to right to left so put on some yardage.
She is amazing, very humble with a killer instinct inside but no real weaknesses, she has got it all. I look at her having an Annika-type career because of the steadiness of it all. It is pretty incredible, what other sport do you have where she has been No 2 in the world at 17.
What is so impressive about her?
Lydia doesn’t overwhelm you straightaway, she does over a period of time. At 14 Michelle was like, how does a girl hit the ball like that? It was a different sound, it was jaw dropping.
Michelle has now proved a lot of people wrong. She was a rich girl who got all these contracts, didn’t care, her parents and coach ruined her – now it’s like yeah we knew she was always going to come right.
Why are women’s short games poor compared to men?
If you speak to biomechanists they say strength is a factor at hitting these little soft shots. If you look at Phil Mickelson there is a tremendous amount of speed and that is true for bunker shots.
Se Ri Pak is interesting as she had no short game, just one type of shot and never experimented and that is encouraged by the type of course.
Now, at places like Pinehurst, you better have a lot of shots.
How have you ended up coaching so many girls?
I don’t know how it’s happened! I never used to teach any women other than my wife when she played the tour. I thought I would slow down a bit and not travel as much. Maybe it is a tad more relaxed. The tour is a little less stressful, the money might not be as much but it is really enjoyable. Some are really good athletes and, to some extent, it is like teaching a man.