Saving Lydia Ko

If anyone doesn’t like Lydia Ko, they’re crazy. She’s cute, unassuming and appears to have a really good handle on life as a hugely successful pro athlete. Funny story, at the Lotte tournament at Ko Olina golf course three years ago, she walked onto the driving range without a caddie, toted her old carry bag and went to hit golf balls. But instead of hitting the nice Titleist Pro V1 practice balls, she grabbed a bucket of yellow range balls meant for amateurs in the Pro-Am event later that morning. No one else seemed to care, nor did any of her fellow players mention it to her. How could other pros not tell her? Was it a rite of passage or dues to be paid by young freshman players as in a college sorority hazing? Whatever the case it was quite amusing. Gotta love her.

But watching her Golf Digest live interview on Facebook the other day made me cringe. When the interviewer asked her questions about what she’s working on in her golf swing, I heard some absolutely astonishing things that suggests she doesn’t know much about how great a golf swing she HAD and has been manipulated into actively participating in the dismantling of her great swing and it’s being replaced by a 30-year-old swing model (that Tiger Woods made obsolete on the men’s side) that’s been repackaged as a brand new biomechanically sound “Alternative Swing.”

Why does no one tell her that this might be a bad road to go down? Michelle Wie went through the same transformation and many others before her too. Does no one care? Are other LPGA pros jealous of her and want to let her fail?

History repeats itself unless we learn from history. Michelle Wie was a young Tiger. She had the modern swing and was athletic enough to bomb it 300 yards. Using the A Swing, she’s averaging around 265 yards and is injured quite often. And when Michelle did win her one major it came at a time where she said she was not being mechanical and not working on her swing. Hmmmm. Do we want Lydia to go down that path?

Update: Lydia shot +2 286 at the Evian Championship in France. Last year she won shooting -16 for a total of 268. That’s 18 strokes lower last year!

Tiger Influenced Golf Swings - TIGS

The modern Tiger influenced golf swing is powerful and accurate. On the men’s side of the game, Nick Faldo’s short and straight accuracy game cannot win at Augusta anymore. If you hit drives 270 yards, you cannot reach those par 5’s with short or middle irons as Bubba does. I’m of the belief that Tiger has inspired many young kids to develop powerful swings and exposed the old school swing of Faldo for what it was. Teaching what Faldo did in the 1990’s is fine, but it’s been made obsolete by what Tiger did in the late 1990’s. It’s 2016, almost two decades after the breakout season of Tiger in 1997.

Look at Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, JB Holmes and others that fit this long and straight category.

None of them swing like the women do (and we know that Leadbetter dominates the instruction for the ladies). There are a few women that might have fit into this category Ariya Jutanugarn, SH Park, Ha Na Jang and a few others. But sadly many players (Michelle Wie, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen) that have had the TIGS, listened to the classic instruction and have lost their greatness.

What other sport takes players at the top of the game and changes their technique (Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Lydia Ko)?

Reading Between the Lines

Going back to Lydia’s interview, let’s try to make sense of the words that are coming out of the horse’s mouth.

She mentions that she was told that she “spins out” or that her hips get too fast for her arms. Lydia, do you realize that great players with the TIGS rotate their body like that?

Perhaps it is even more critical for Lydia to swing like this because she’s playing against six foot plus giants like Lexi or Britney Lincicome and now bigger, stronger, wider Ariya. If she starts to swing more “efficiently” (using shoulders and arms instead of bigger muscles and in lower body and spine), she’s going to lose distance and decrease the stability of her drive/hold release. Of course the way she’s being told to get more distance is to flip and roll faster to hit a draw instead of her patented baby fade.

Here’s a drill that she uses to stop her from “spinning out.” Does this make sense? It’s an anti-Dustin Johnson drill. In other words, it’s a way to make her rotate her pelvis less and slower in the downswing.


I cannot understand what efficiency means in a golf swing. JJ Rivet, the biomechanist that came up with the grand idea of the A Swing loves to promote how efficient the swing is. Seems like his definition is “less = more.” Less motion to do the same job = more efficiency. How does that work for car racing? Let’s say a Toyota Prius engine was installed in a race car and get 50 miles per gallon. That’s pretty efficient. But what are we missing here? An element of output.

Contrast that to today’s F1 racing cars that are using 4 cylinder 1.6 liter engines that are turbocharged and use high pressure fuel injection that can develop over 1300 horsepower and hit speeds over 230 mph! The technology they’re using is getting 35% greater efficiency in terms of gas mileage as well. So they get 6 miles per gallon instead of 4.5. Now that’s efficiency while developing the needed output in terms of horsepower and speed.

So back to the golf swing efficiency. If they are going to make a case for efficiency, they need to measure output. If not, it is less muscles + less movement = more efficient but less output. And that’s what we’re seeing with Michelle and her distance losses over the years. Everything in this theory is about removing power movements and you can see what it has done over time. According to LPGA statistics Lydia has lost 3 yards in the last two years of doing this swing and the better she gets at the A Swing, the shorter she’ll hit it. Meanwhile the media keeps saying she’s gaining 10-15 yards. Who are we to believe?   

Release Style

Here’s another drill shown by Lydia. It’s a split hands drill designed to keep the club in front of your hands. Been there done that a lot with students. It gives a feeling of releasing the arms (flip/roll release) and making the club get passing by the hands. It is similar to the L to L drill in terms of the release pattern it develops.

Yes we can understand how this will keep the club more in front of the hands on the backswing.

And on the downswing she’s showing how to get the club in front again.

Hinge your wrists on the backswing then bring the club down in front of you on the downswing. Do they realize that’s causing early right shoulder internal rotation and extension of the right arm? In other words, this drill causes her to lose lag. On the right is when she was 17 years old playing the Lotte tournament. Why early release of lag when she could hold lag and hit it farther and better?

Yes maybe they do because it helps to create the smooth flip/roll release that is desired. Never mind that power players hold the right arm bent (flexion) longer. This is all about a free-wheeling release that is in someone’s imagination believed to be better (mostly a problem of looking at low frame rate videos of great players).

Manipulate it

One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. Let’s say you’re the king of golf instruction and you understand the world through your own swing which has a stall and flip/roll release. And you want to teach everyone your swing. In other words, you teach in your own image. We all do this. It is human nature.

Then you see a swing that you don’t recognize as being even remotely like your own model of perfection. Then you try to mimic it to understand it compared to your own swing. Of course it’s going to feel terrible. Then you start to use loaded language to create a bias in the student that will encourage them to dislike doing the TIGS, or its movements. Thus, the phrase “manipulate it” which Lydia uses in the context of her old swing, has a negative connotation and becomes the rallying cry to flip and roll.  

But what does the word “manipulate” mean? Google says, “handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner.”

Having myself swung the club incorrectly with the Leadbetter flip/roll release for over a decade, I can say that the freewheeling release advocated by him is far more difficult to get the timing right. You must be worried about the release at all times. If you release faster, it’s a big hook. Too slow and you get a weak fade.

Thus, if anyone is manipulating the club, it is not players with a TIGS or drive/hold swing. It is the A Swing type of free-wheeling timing-based release. Logically doesn’t it make sense that the timing must be monitored/controlled at all times?

I digress. As I have written in a previous article on the Instinctive Swing, I see great players doing remarkably similar things just by having a stronger grip and closed clubface at the top of the backswing. They learn that a flip/roll release cannot work with this position therefore they learn to drive/hold.

Just look at this beautiful strong clubface position when she was younger.

Then this early supinated left forearm and flexed left wrist. Money!

Naturally Lydia learned to develop a solid drive/hold release. In this manner she was able to rotate her body as hard as she wished to create the power while the drive/hold release provided the control that does not rely so much on timing.

What we call drive/hold is creating clubface stability while allowing for maximum compression of the golf ball. What they call a release is creating the opposite or clubface mobility. To Leadbetter, a freewheeling, flip and rolling release is a great release.

So the next time you hear the word “manipulate,” understand it within this context of what the instructor is trying to guide you toward.

Planeology Bias

Imagine you’re Lydia Ko and the #1 golf instructor in the world tells you, “You’re over the top.” Okay, so how is it possible for her to play golf at the highest levels and be over the top? She made it to #1 in the world while being over the top. Hmmmmm.

Could it be that Leadbetter is biased toward a flatter downswing (swing plane determined by shaft plane set at address) and that he doesn’t recognize the greatness within her (like the way her great rotation is called “spinning out” and her stable release is called “manipulation”)? The way Lydia mentioned it, he seemed to suggest that she was no better than an amateur hack that’s coming over the top. What???

Here’s the once “next great one” Alvaro Quiros, moving to a more “on plane” downswing. How’s that working out for you? From a high of 22 on the world ranking in 2011 to #446 currently.

I don’t see any PGA tour player swinging this flat unless being instructed to. The “natural” and more athletic players don’t swing on shaft plane. So by Lead’s definition they are all over the top and require a flattening of their downswing plane. How can that be? Could it be that creating chronic illness in students’ swings is a good business model?

I don’t see how Lydia was steep and over the top. That means DJ, Tiger and most other tour players are over the top. Impossible.

Does it have to be this flat in order to hit it correctly? Meanwhile the clubface gets too open, the right elbow gets slightly behind the right hip and the left arm a bit too inside. It’s a recipe to force a flip/roll.

Information age

In this age of information and high speed video, we have more of an understanding than ever before. Thus huge discrepancies between swing “theories” should not exist! Sure there will be differences but not in the magnitude that is evident.

And women vs men tour pro differences should not exist either. Gender differences do not explain why Michelle Wie developed her Tiger-like swing in the first place (only to be destroyed by these theories). Lydia Ko had this type of swing as a teenager as well and is slowly being changed to the stall and flip/roll swing like an average woman pro.

It is understandable that Leadbetter believes his theory works, and at the moment he dominates women’s golf and he’s influenced the entire golf instruction industry in many ways. Whether teachers know it or not, many techniques we use or even in the golf fitness and biomechanical field, can be traced back to the highly popular and influential Leadbetter.

But the game has progressed. The game changed to a power game in addition to the needed accuracy. The ideal swing has changed for the better The drive/hold release pattern has replaced the flip/roll and the rate of closure is lower. The TIGS is more powerful AND accurate as can be. Perhaps it is a bit of Darwin’s natural selection. The young guns on the men’s tour all seem to have this release and awesome body rotation.

The only thing that stands in the way is old thinking and refusing to see what can be seen with high speed video.

In the men’s game, Jack Nicklaus had the pre-Tiger TIGS but was slowly changed to a lesser powered swing that eventually ruined his back. But television and technology hadn’t developed to the point where people could detect changes. So this went pretty much unnoticed and Jack was so much more powerful that he could still dominate with a lesser swing.

Lydia is not powerful like Jack. She needs to be firing on all cylinders in order to dominate. She cannot afford to hit it shorter. And we cannot sit back, watch the dismantling occur before our very eyes and let this happen again. Enough golfers have been affected by this type of swing instruction that slowly diminishes performance.

Under the Spell or Propaganda Works

Lydia’s interview provided insights into Leadbetter’s use of loaded key words or phrases to influence Lydia into buying into the program. The three issues Lydia said that Leadbetter pointed out with her old swing all had negative connotations attached to the words she used.

  1. Spinning out of hips

  2. Manipulating with the hands with release pattern

  3. Over the top

So let’s say you’re a young impressionable person and you meet the #1 teacher in golf and he tells you those three things. You’re going to buy into the program immediately. However, isn’t it better to do some research before buying that Prius? People should be educated about what the best swings on tour look like. You don’t need to know how to do it (If you’re Lydia, you were already able to do it). Just know what a great swing looks like vs. a low powered supposedly accurate (but it’s not) swing. If your hero growing up was Michelle Wie, take another look at her now.  

Maybe get a second opinion from Butch Harmon, the best teacher in golf? He would not have torn down that house.

After all, Tiger was improved by Butch without these massive swing changes and he dominated for a long time under Butch’s tutelage. And as Lee Trevino said about Butch, something to the effect of “He’s a roofer. If there’s a leak in the roof, he’ll fix the leak not tear down the entire foundation to fix the leak.”

There’s some wisdom to that quote that we all can understand.

Dinosaurus Rex

Leadbetter isn’t a bad guy. He’s a nice guy and genuinely wants to help golfers. His swing worked in the 1980’s and 90’s but as soon as Tiger came along we know what happened. Thus the game has passed him by. Repackaging old swing ideas as biomechanically new ideas doesn’t make it better. It’s time for Leadbetter to go back into research mode and figure out how all these young guys are bombing and hitting it straight so he can help players be better to compete in the new global power game that has taken over. If not, he’ll lose his place at the top and become extinct.

Lesson for Average Joes

As I wrote earlier in this article, the Leadbetter’s ideas on the swing are ubiquitous. People may not recognize where they come from but they lead to the same swing. If you’re taking lessons from a pro that encourages the L to L or a free wheeling release, you have to question it. Why learn a release that’s more difficult to do?

Or asking you to slow down your hip/pelvic rotation is simply missing some knowledge or just looking with his/her eyes??? Synchronization is a difficult term to define because it means different things to different teachers.  For me, as long as the left hip or left side of pelvis moves simultaneous with the right elbow move (transverse adduction and external rotation of the right shoulder) and you can’t move it too fast. By my definition, it keeps the upper and lower halves of your body together.

But when others mention synchronization, I have no idea what they mean. Leadbetter suggests that the inner circle of pelvis needs to drive the arms yet he worries about the arms always keeping up with the body. Since he doesn’t mention the right elbow and right shoulder it becomes more about the hands staying in sync with the body rotation and that means early right shoulder internal rotation (OTT move) which is then countered by reducing body rotation and extending the right arm early.

It all makes sense if you’re ONLY looking at the plane but that’s why it is under-powered. This swing will make you replace huge, fast rotation of the body and holding right shoulder external rotation that explodes into right shoulder internal rotation just before impact, with slower body rotation, early right shoulder internal rotation (which must be performed slowly unless you want to swing over the top) and extending right elbow early (increasing moment of inertia like ice skater extending his/her arms to rotate slower).

And lastly, be careful of the notion of the flat shaft plane based on the shaft at address position. It isn’t founded on what the majority of great golfers do (most have ulnar deviation which changes things). If you want to progress beyond the flip/roll release, you cannot fix that if you’re too flat with your right elbow stuck. It just leads to more flip/roll and a timing based swing.

When you look at the old school method from an anatomical standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense in comparison to the TIGS. Live in the now! Save Lydia from total annihilation!