Lydia Ko: On working on her swing

It’s pretty exciting when the No. 1 Player in the World shows up in the media center for a questioning free-for-all. Even more so when the conversation moves to the work on her swing with David Leadbetter. And almost ecstasy when that leads naturally into the topic of golf mastery: “How do you integrate all of these swing changes so that you can just play naturally?”

Lydia Ko popped into the LPGA’s JTBC Founders Cup and, as she always does, was only too happy to consider these questions and come up with thoughtful answers. My questions begin with my question that I have been speaking with her for three years trying to find out what her “secret sauce” is. 

Q. Can you tell us about how your swing has evolved since joining David, and exactly why you wanted to evolve to where it is?

Yeah, I think the biggest difference is probably the club face at the top of the backswing. Even since day one we’ve said let’s keep it with my rhythm and just have the rhythm there and just try and make things so that it will be a little bit more efficient and more simple for me. I used to play with a really closed club face, and I had to compensate to try and make it square so that I wouldn’t hook it very left. Now I’m playing with a much squarer club face, and because of that squarer club face, if I come down the way I used to, then I either hit it really right, or if I try and compensate at the last minute, then I hit it left.

I think people have been thinking about [that] we’ve been doing a lot of swing changes, but there’s only like three or four, just a few things that we’ve been working on since day one, and we’ve been just trying to get better at it and just better and better and better, just trying to polish it.

We’re not working on new things. When David was there in Singapore, no, we weren’t working on a whole new technique or a whole new swing or a whole new way to come down. We’re still working on the same things, but maybe with different drills or different approach to do it.

I think that’s the way some people has looked at it is that they’ve been doing a whole new swing or a whole new “A swing.” But we’ve been working on similar things and trying to get better at it. The more time I spend on Tour, sometimes something is going to go out of place, so we’ve been trying to get back where I can be a little bit more simple, a little bit more efficient, where sometimes I don’t need to compensate to try and bring it to square.

Q. Just following up on that, I talked to David at the end of last year because he has the A swing, and I asked him about that, and he goes, Lydia is kind of like a mid-A swing. What do you think of that, and are you more of an A swing now?

No. I feel like I’m not more of an A swing now than I was in November last year or April last year. I feel like it hasn’t changed much. Sometimes I go out of position and then it might look more steep, but it’s not like I’m trying to be there at that time or we’re working on to try and get there.

Q. Last time you and I spoke to each other was at the Women’s Open in Lancaster, and you had spent quite a bit of time that week on the range with David hitting balls. Since the Women’s Open you went on quite a run with several wins, several top 5s and several top 10s, and I noticed stat-wise while you were doing that, your putts per round dropped. Do you attribute that to the swing change that you’re consistently hitting the ball closer to the hole, or have you also worked hard on your putting at the same time to improve those stats?

Yeah, I’m trying to work to get better in all parts of my game. Unless I hit 14 fairways every single round and make every single putt that I need to make when I’m on the green, I’m sure, or try and hole every single second shot that I’m going to go for the green, then there is no perfect. I’m always trying to get progressively better at it.

I’ve been working with Mike Sweeney with AimPoint and try and get better feels and try and hole a few more putts, and even if it’s not those 20-footers, try and get comfortable on the shorter ones where at the end of the day, a four-footer may seem so short, but it counts. It means a lot.

No, we’ve been working on that and obviously doing short game stuff, and then with David and Sean, we’ve been trying to put some time where it can be more simple, and even if I’m away for a long time, not seeing them, I still know my swing, and if it’s off a little bit, I’m able to understand and know what one drill I need to do to try and help that. The A swing, I think the big thing about A swing was to try and get good synchronization, so I know some players struggle with synchronization more than some others, so to one player it might be easier doing that full A swing, but for me it has worked where it’s kind of that mid-A swing where obviously you shallow out a little bit, but it’s not as much as some other players.

But that’s why I think it all depends on the player. Michelle and I have the same coaches, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to have exactly the same swing because obviously our swing speed is different and our height and all that kind of plays into it, too.

Q. I’ve been asking you for two years now how it is that you do what you do. I’m interested in the mastery side of the game. What’s the secret sauce that allows you to integrate all these things into your swing, take them to the golf course so seamlessly, play at such a high level almost all the time? Do you have some unifying thing? You’ve told me the last two years, just have fun.

Yeah. That’s the most important thing for me. During the middle of last year I kind of lost having fun for a month or so, and I don’t know why that kind of came upon me. But no, after one round, I always kind of have to thank Jessica Korda because I played with her, and with her bubbly character and personality, and I started having fun again, and I realized how important that was to me.

You’d think it would be so easy to say, hey, just go have fun, but obviously at the end of the day it means so much to you that it brings stress and pressure. But having fun is I think really important. But at the same time trying to work hard to try and get better. If you don’t have fun, I feel like it’s not worth it, spending all those hours and all that time out there to try and get better.

Q. But you’ve also talked a number of times about how nervous you get sometimes on the golf course. How do you balance those two things, the fact that you get nervous and just have fun?

I was nervous playing with Chan Ho Park today. I think obviously it’s important to try and control your nerves, and I think it’s good that you have nerves because I think you feel nervous because you’re excited and you know that you’ve worked hard to be there and you know you’re wanting to play good. It means a lot to you. If it didn’t mean anything and you really didn’t care, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be nervous.

So I think that’s the thing where I try and accept it, and kind of like what Israel Dagg of the All Blacks [rugby team] in New Zealand, he told me to kind of just embrace it, embrace the fans, embrace everything, and I think that’s kind of a good way to approach it.

Q. How many other times have you done the kind of swing work that you’re doing with David now, and how long does it normally take you to integrate a new swing thought into what you’re doing?

You know, I think for the last year or so, we haven’t really added a whole new swing concept. We’re always just trying to get better at it and try and find drills where it would make it easier for me to do that.

I like to take lessons frequently when I’m back in Orlando for the off week. I think that way I get a better understanding of my swing. You’d think two, three years is a long time, but being on the road a lot, playing so much, two, three years, it sounds like a long time because you’re away from it so much, but actually at the end of the day you don’t spend that much time unless you go into the off-season where you really get that month or two off and really work on things.

Throughout the season we’re not trying to rip the swing apart, and that was the same since day one. David didn’t try and rip my swing apart and say, hey, this is going to be your new swing at the end of whatever. We’ve been just trying to get better at it little by little so that I would still be able to compete and not struggle with my swing that much.

Q. You don’t think about your swing that much when you play?

You know, we try and make it simple. That’s why like even when I call David or Sean, they just tell me like one key swing thought to think about, even like on a Wednesday, and then when I’m out there playing, I really shouldn’t be thinking about it. I’m going to think about what club I’m going to hit, where I’m going to hit it to, and et cetera. There’s just so much to think about if I thought about all those things.

Q. How long does it take you to get to the point where you no longer have to think about it, three years?

I mean, if I’m swinging good and it feels comfortable, that’s the thing, I don’t know, it could have been one month, two months. I can’t exactly remember. But if I feel comfortable, even though if it’s a little off, but I’m still striking it good, then we kind of let it go a little bit, and then in the off week obviously try and work on it a little bit.

But at the end of the day, I’ve just got to feel comfortable, and I trust David and Sean and my team. They’re wanting the best for me, so that’s a big key. I’ve just got to have fun.

The big thing for me is that I’m getting a better understanding of my swing so that when my coaches aren’t there, I’m still able to know, hey, maybe this is going on so I need to do this, and I think that’s a big key for me.

The great thing about these detailed responses to my questions is that this is the kind of response I have been seeking from her all along. It wasn’t that she was necessarily withholding answers as it was being completely and truly enveloped in her young-girl-just-having-fun way of being. She simply hadn’t thought much about it. I remember the quizzical  look on her face the first time I asked her.

On the one hand, some of the magic is gone knowing that she is working so deliberately on her swing and seems to understand it. On the other, getting access to and understanding of her charming inscrutability still seems just out of reach. It’s hard to understand how such a young woman has developed such a wise, openly-friendly persona.

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