RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - World number one Lydia Ko, a teenage prodigy who has already won six LPGA Tour titles, is on track to have “an Annika Sorenstam-type career”, according to esteemed swing coach David Leadbetter.
Swede Sorenstam, a former world number one, racked up 72 wins on the LPGA Tour, including 10 major titles, during her career.
While the 17-year-old Ko has yet to claim a major victory, the New Zealander has become one of the most consistent players in the women’s game with a temperament that Leadbetter describes as “just amazing” for somebody of her age.
“She’s got that ‘X’ factor,” Leadbetter told Reuters at the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the season, where Ko equaled Sorenstam’s record run of 29 consecutive rounds under par on the LPGA Tour.
“Her greatest strength is that she doesn’t have any weaknesses. She is good in every department, especially up here,” Leadbetter said, pointing to both sides of his head.
“Her temperament and mental strength are just amazing for her age. You see young players hit the ball well, but to be able to translate that into the results that she is achieving is absolutely incredible.”
Ko, who was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6, piled up earnings of $2.09 million on the 2014 LPGA Tour, becoming the first rookie to surpass $2 million in a year.
She claimed her sixth LPGA title at the Women’s Australian Open in February before recording her third triumph on the Ladies European Tour at last month’s New Zealand Women’s Open.
England-born Leadbetter has worked with some of the best players in golf over the past 30 years — including former world number ones Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Ernie Els — and is confident that Ko will also achieve Hall of Fame success.
“Lydia could probably have an Annika Sorenstam-type career in my opinion,” said Leadbetter.
“She’s got the perfect game for majors. She could literally win anywhere. She’s that good. She loves being in competition, and she just expects to play well. Every week, you look at the top of the leaderboard and she’s there or thereabouts.”
Ko, who became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour when she landed the 2012 Canadian Open title at the age of 15, was coached for 11 years by Guy Wilson in New Zealand before they split in late 2013 and she moved on to Leadbetter.
Asked what changes he had made to her swing, Leadbetter replied: “What she had was great. We’ve made some subtle changes, her swing is shorter now than it used to be and it’s more efficient.
“The biggest thing is that we are enabling her to hit a draw now whereas before she was a fader of the ball. She’s not a big girl so she’s got to maximize her distance. She still has that beautiful rhythm, nothing has changed in that department.
“We just built on what she had really, a slight evolution from where she was. She’s getting stronger physically so she is probably 15 yards longer than she was a year ago, a big plus.”
Leadbetter, who also coaches former teen prodigy Michelle Wie, said he was somewhat hesitant when Ko initially came under his supervision.
“Obviously you love to work with quality players, great players or potentially great players,” he said. “We felt she was so much in the public eye that if she played well, well then she was supposed to play well.
“If she played badly, then, ‘Hey, I screwed her up.’ So we handled her a little bit with kid gloves in the beginning, made a few little changes.
“Fortunately the first week after working with us, she went out and won her first LPGA tournament as a pro, the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in Korea (in April 2014), and that helped a lot.”
Editing by Gene Cherry