Q & A with David Leadbetter, Part 2
by Terry Moore
This summer The Meadows GC at Grand Valley State University will host The David Leadbetter Golf Academy. The Academy will consist of four half-day sessions and be open to juniors, beginners and seasoned players alike. With the news of the Leadbetter Academy coming to Michigan and joining the host of fine schools and teaching programs available in the state, I took the opportunity to interview on the phone David Leadbetter, widely regarded as one of the premier teachers in the game, last month. Besides, I was in desperate straits over my swing and needed some help. Here are excerpts of our conversation:
TM: How accurate is the often heard TV analysis of a player's swing "coming over the top" as the cause of a wayward shot?
Leadbetter: Yes, it's often an overused term. In general terms, coming over the top refers to the club working outside the plane on the downswing. A slicer is a classic over-the-topper. But many good players are not really "coming over the top" as they are crossing their right hand (for right-handed players) over their left hand--sort of a flip with right hand. So, for better players whose shots go to the left they're not throwing their right shoulder out and over on the downswing. Instead, their right hand and arm come over their left, thereby closing the clubface and sending the ball left.
TM: When better players are hitting it well are they better off just playing and not practicing as much?
Leadbetter: Sometimes that's true. When Byron Nelson won 11 tournaments in a row, he actually didn't practice much. He was in such a groove there was little need to. Some players don't want to tamper with what's going on. That's often the art of really good players--they don't want to practice too much because they view their swing or game as a fine watch with intricate movements. But then there's a Vijay Singh who practices all the time.
TM: What about the dreaded "paralysis by analysis?" Isn't that a byproduct of too much teaching?
Leadbetter: Yes, that is a problem especially with players who overuse video in dissecting their swings. I'm working with Ernie Els right now and over the past couple years Ernie had gotten too technical. A video camera can be dangerous because it can make a player too aware and too self-conscious of the swing. That's why many times I won't use video with a certain player. With a player at a tournament, I want that person simply to have a good feeling as he heads to the tee without being too self-conscious.
TM: One question that's often on golfers' minds when they see all the swing doctors out on the practice tee at a Tour stop is what is the business arrangement between player and teacher?
Leadbetter: Well, when I came out on Tour in the early 80s to work with Denis Watson and Nick Price there was nobody else out there on the practice tee. Zero. I remember one year at the World Series of Golf (at Firestone GC in Akron) someone said to me, "hey, that's Jimmy Ballard over there." To be honest, I didn't know he who he was. Apart from Bob Toski and Jimmy Ballard there wasn't anyone else out there. Ballard was working with Curtis Strange and somewhat with Hal Sutton at the time. My stock grew when I started working with Nick Faldo. At one stage I was working with 30 different Tour players which seems unbelievable. Now I work with a dozen players while my assistants probably work with another eight players or so. For me, I never did it for the money or the compensation. To be honest, I was never well-compensated by the players. I did it for the love and the challenge--to be able to leave a positive mark on a player's game. But it's also true that working with Tour players lent a lot of great PR. But I wasn't trying to make a living teaching Tour players. Today I still don't make much money from working with Tour players. My payment arrangements range from a small percentage with certain players to a piecemeal deal as to when I see them. With Jim Carter it's more of a piecemeal arrangement. Besides, these players often become good friends of mine.
Today, there are a number of teachers working with players. Some players have teachers they've worked with since junior golf and college. In contrast, look at the Senior Tour. There are few if any swing coaches or gurus who follow the Tour. That's because those players largely grew up taking care of their swings by themselves. They figured it out on their own. Sure, Nicklaus used to work with Jack Grout and Bobby Jones before that used to work with Stewart Maiden in Atlanta. But generally speaking golfers from those generations took care of themselves.
TM: What's your philosophy on teaching juniors and even one's own children? Can one overdo it?
Leadbetter: Well, we're very familiar with teaching juniors. We have 100 juniors who go to our school and academy full-time in Bradenton, FL. They go to private school in the morning and then in the afternoon everything is geared for their golf. And yes, there are some pushy parents who resemble pushy tennis parents. A lot of it depends on the kids. Some kids love being pushed. The phenomenal 13-year old Wongluekiet twins (Aree Song & Naree) at our school don't mind being pushed by their parents. Many Asian children grow up that way. Some people here in the Western world frown upon how certain Asian parents push their children whether it be in sports or in academics. But to many Asian families this all seems quite normal and natural. I'm not saying this is the best way but for some young people this is how they respond well. But parents and junior teachers must give kids some guidance and some encouragement. And kids have to take to the game themselves. It doesn't help if it's forced down their throats. For sure, you have to make golf fun for beginners.
For more information about the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at The Meadows call 1-616-895-1004 or call the Academy at 1-800-424-3542 or visit www.leadbetter.com
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