Sean Foley describes how Lydia Ko regained her world-beating form

From 2012 to 2016, young star Lydia Ko basically owned the LPGA Tour. She won the CN Canadian Women’s Open twice as an amateur before collecting 12 more victories between 2014 and 2016, including two major championships. It appeared nothing could stop her, until, mysteriously, her winning ways were no longer. Changes to her equipment, coach and caddies followed.

For 43 straight events, Ko remained winless, until finally breaking through in a playoff to claim her 15th career win, the 2018 LPGA Mediheal Championship. But after the win, a new barren stretch began. Ko slipped to No. 50 in the Rolex ranking, and last summer, she sought the tutelage of Tiger Woods’ former swing coach and GOLF Top 100 Teacher Sean Foley.

In April, Ko ended her second lengthy winless drought with a victory at the 2021 Lotte Championship in April — her 16th career LPGA title.

On this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, which was filmed before a live audience at GOLF’s Top 100 Teacher Summit at Pinehurst, Foley described how Ko first reached out to him about eight months before they started officially working together.

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By: Jessica Marksbury

“I just showed her some swings from YouTube from when she was like 15 or 16,” Foley said. “And she said, my clubface is too closed there and my hips are too fast. Well, you’ve just been told that is not a good thing. So take a look at these videos. If you can put 10-12 pounds of muscle on and get close to these videos, call me again. And then eight months later, she called me, and then we got started.”

Foley explained that for players like Jordan Spieth and Lydia Ko, they game came very easy to them, so when they start to lose it, they have trouble putting their finger on what they did in the first place.

“[Ko] went completely against her DNA and made a lot of the wrong changes,” Foley said. “I think that what happens is when you do that, and I’ve been guilty of it myself as a coach, you don’t really see the negative effect for a while. So when you take someone like Lydia who is, as Mike Adams would say, a rear-post player — she has massive amounts of counter-rotation — and then you cut off all the rotation in the backswing and then start getting that person to go vertical, it just goes all over the place.”

In addition to the physical changes Foley and Ko have been focusing on — alignment, positioning and feel — Foley says honing Ko’s mental game and competitive mindset has also been a huge priority.

“[At the Saudi Ladies Invitational], she made 18 birdies in 36 holes this weekend, but still pointed out to the media this one nasty drive she hit,” Foley said. “That’s pretty unconscious to mention that nasty drive. So when I see an interview done where she doesn’t mention that, I know that we’re closer. I still think that we’re going to get a lot better. She’s so incredible for the game. I think more than anything, how I helped her get clear was, we just kind of went through the difficulty of being No. 1 in the world at 17.”

For more from Foley, including the mistakes he thinks he made with Tiger Woods, and Woods’ impressive wedge warmup routine, check out the full interview below.

jessica marksbury

Golf.com Photographer

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.