Life Lessons

The world renowned in­struc­tor on the Faldo years, the magic of Seve, il­le­gal drivers for am­a­teurs, why a World Tour is over­due, the curse of a dodgy grip and the open­ing of his lat­est acad­emy at JA The Re­sort Golf Course.

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - BY KENT GRAY

David Lead­bet­ter on Faldo, Seve, il­le­gal drivers, dodgy grips and his new acad­emy at Jebel Ali in Dubai.


He had a re­ally good feel for what he did and I don’t know whether some of that has been handed down to me but my in­stincts are re­ally good. Even back in the day be­fore biome­chan­ics was fash­ion­able, I had an in­stinct about how the body should work so I was lucky in that re­spect. I do things that are very much off the cuff, it’s not strict tech­nique from a purist stand­point. It’s in­stinct with me.

I’ve learned an aw­ful

lot about how the body works and how the mind works but in a sense, it hasn’t changed a tremen­dous amount [his coach­ing phi­los­o­phy]. I wrote a book called ‘ The Golf Swing’ in 1989 and if I look at that book, 95 per­cent if it is what we do to­day. The wrap­ping may be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, and I can get the mes­sage across quicker.

When I started work­ing with Faldo,

he said ‘how long do you think this is go­ing to take’ and I said, ‘well, you want to put your trust in me and you re­ally want to do what you’re go­ing to do, it’s go­ing to take a cou­ple of years’ and we prob­a­bly weren’t too far off that, it was prob­a­bly a month off two years. You couldn’t do that to­day. To­day there’s too much rid­ing on it, whether it be top 50, spon­sors or what­ever.

Nick was my great­est stu­dent

be­cause of the fact, he and I went at it to­gether, he had a goal, I had a goal, we were driven and the en­ergy lev­els were such that we knew that he was go­ing to get it some­how, in same shape or form. We had no doubt and he stuck at it through hell and high wa­ter.

It was very spe­cial.

It gave me a lot of cred­i­bil­ity. My ca­reer took off from that point be­cause for the long­est pe­riod of time, it was who is this idiot mess­ing up our golden boy, es­pe­cially from the U.K. and then we started win­ning and it was like, well maybe he knows some­thing, And Nick was very gen­er­ous in his praise and it was like we were a team, it was Faldo and Leds type of thing. You never know, it’s a bit of a mys­tery this game and who knows, if he hadn’t of one his first ma­jor at Muir­field in ’87, he mightn’t have won any. But that gave him the im­pe­tus to go on and re­ally be a dom­i­nant player of his era.

A lot of it with am­a­teurs

is pure, poor strat­egy. Not re­al­is­ing they’re lim­ited to a cer­tain ex­tent, they’re not tour play­ers. If you’re an 18 hand­i­cap­per, your par is re­ally 90, it’s not 72 and peo­ple play it as if they’re a scratch player. I’ve got to hit the fair­way here and I’ve got to hit the green there and it’s like, no you don’t. Par-3s are par- 4s, par- 4s are par-5s and par-5s are par6s if you look at it in sim­ple terms. So I think it is play­ing within your­self, play­ing smart, not do­ing things that you are prob­a­bly in­ca­pable of even if you might have done it on oc­ca­sions. Play­ing the odds and learn­ing to re­lax and re­al­is­ing golf is fun, it’s not meant to be that se­ri­ous.

Some am­a­teurs

take it so se­ri­ously and they get frus­trated and as soon as you get frus­trated you get tight and as soon as you get tight ten­sion creeps in there, you can’t swing any­way. How many times do you go ‘this is hope­less, now I’m just go­ing to hit the ball’ and they just start play­ing well be­cause they’ve ac­tu­ally let go.

Let your in­stincts come out.

Most peo­ple have played other sports and have good in­stincts but they don’t let their in­stincts come into play be­cause they’re try­ing so hard to control the sit­u­a­tion. You can’t be a control freak play­ing golf.

For­tu­nately, that’s what keeps us in busi­ness,

all the mis­takes am­a­teurs make. For starters, 90 per­cent of ama­teur golfers grip the club in­cor­rectly. Any golfer that wears a hole out in their glove, you can be cer­tain that is their is­sue. And from there, steams a whole host of er­rors. One of my favourite say­ings, which Ben Ho­gan coined the phrase many a year ago, is ‘good golf be­gins with a good grip”.

A clubs weights a pound

or a half a kilo, what­ever mea­sure­ment you want to use. It’s not like a sledge­ham­mer but you look at most peo­ple and they’re over-hit­ting it. You can see their veins are pop­ping. Whose swing do peo­ple love? It’s Ernie Els. Why? Be­cause it looks free, it looks flow­ing. An­other one of my pet say­ings…swing easy, hit hard in­stead of grip­ping it like you are stran­gling a snake.

We’ve al­ways wanted

to have an acad­emy in Dubai and my as­so­ci­a­tion with Rafa Cabr­era Bello, with his at­tach­ment here, it seemed to make sense. It’s a lovely lit­tle fa­cil­ity this [JA The Re­sort]. Ob­vi­ously there are a lot of top notch cour­ses here but this is …I like the prac­tice area, the man­age­ment is great, the ho­tels are close and it’s a lit­tle away from the mad­den­ing crowds so to speak so when you’re here, you’re here. They had an up and func­tion­ing acad­emy with Stu­art Fee here and we’ve just added some­thing to what they al­ready of­fer. It’s an amenity re­ally that we’re of­fer­ing the ho­tel guests and we’ve got some big plans for start­ing the Lead­bet­ter kids pro­gram.

I’ve been do­ing this

for a long time now and we’ve got cer­tain pro­to­cols that we fol­low that en­able us to get to the root cause of the prob­lem in a very short space of time. Golf is a game where if you do fol­low some ba­sics, get your tech­nique down, no mat­ter your age, you can im­prove. As I like to say, the golf ball doesn’t know how old you are.

I think if you are go­ing to play golf,

you should do it to the best of your abil­ity and so there is a dis­tinct lack of un­der­stand­ing about how you can play this game at a higher level and ful­fil your po­ten­tial. Our goal is to help peo­ple re­ally un­der­stand their own game and give them a plan to im­prove as well. It’s an all- en­com­pass­ing look. We’re not go­ing to guar­an­tee you in a week you’re go­ing to be ready for the tour but they will cer­tainly have a re­ally good un­der­stand­ing. Not to be­lit­tle any other golf acad­emy, there’s a lot of good coaches around, but I’ve been do­ing this for a long time and this is our 41st acad­emy that we’re open­ing and we’ve got proven suc­cess.

I wouldn’t say it’s a clas­sic swing

but I worked with him for a year and one of my favourites was Seve Ballesteros be­cause you never knew what he was go­ing to do. His abil­ity to fash­ion a score from where he hit it was un­be­liev­able. If you we just look­ing at a swing, you’d say ‘I love Adam Scott’s swing’, I love Rafa’s swing or I love Ernie’s swing’. But you look at a Seve…oh, this guy. Just his short game, the imag­i­na­tion. I got to see him when he was younger too and he’d hit it 320 into the next fair­way and hit the next one to two feet, it was like…wow.

Greg Nor­man was an­other.

Sure peo­ple would love to watch a Faldo be­cause he was monotonously bor­ing and just hit fair­ways and hit greens and he was like a ma­chine. But with Greg Nor­man, he’d stand up there and he’d just smash it 300 with the old club down the mid­dle, tow­er­ing three irons. Those were the sort of charis­matic play­ers, they were def­i­nitely fun to watch.

I don’t think there was ever a finer player

in his peak than Tiger. Look, there’s a case for ev­ery­body, Nick­laus, Wat­son, you name it, Johnny Miller hit­ting flags but ob­vi­ously Tiger, for those 12 years, no­body could play this game bet­ter, that’s for sure.

I would get you

hit­ting very few balls in the begin­ning if I had a blank canvas to teach an ama­teur. You want to learn the tech­nique. Ul­ti­mately you learn the tech­nique and then you make the swing and let the ball get in the way.

I see the game

be­ing very healthy in cer­tain ar­eas and un­healthy in oth­ers. It’s healthy at the top level and the junior level, it’s the mid­dle area where it’s un­healthy where peo­ple are play­ing less golf. Golf’s time con­sum­ing and all these rules and reg­u­la­tions about equip­ment for am­a­teurs are ridicu­lous. Hey, why not have il­le­gal drivers that hit the ball fur­ther than nor­mal? If they can hit one 280 yards if their long­est drive ever is 250, how about it? That’s go­ing to bring peo­ple back into the game.

They’ve got to bring in

some in­no­va­tions and make it ex­cit­ing. Make it more of a World Tour too. There are too many tour­na­ments out there that are…who cares. I mean the KLM Open, or the Mil­wau­kee Open…I mean who knows who won it? They need to have the top notch play­ers play­ing to­gether more reg­u­larly. Just hav­ing the ma­jors and four WGC events is not enough, there should be 20 events these guys are play­ing in and, hey, if you as­pire to get into those events, the top 75 or what­ever, then great.

My hero

be­cause I grew up in south­ern Africa was Gary Player and I still have a great re­la­tion­ship with him. Here’s a guy who didn’t have the phys­i­cal skills of a Jack Nick­laus but just though self­de­ter­mi­na­tion and guts got to where he is. Yeah, he comes over a lit­tle strong at times but just the fact the guy is in his early 80s now and acts like he’s 25…still work­ing out. He doesn’t only talk the talk, he walks the walk.

I don’t play that much now.

I still en­joy play­ing but I’ve had a wrist in­jury and a foot in­jury and as you get older... My daugh­ter works for GolfDi

gest in New York in the dig­i­tal depart­ment and my eldest son teaches for us in China and my youngest just left univer­sity and he’s just turned pro and he’s go­ing to give it a go and so we’ll see how he goes. So I en­joy play­ing with him and my wife, we play pe­ri­od­i­cally, she was a very good player on tour for a num­ber of years so it’s in the blood. I do miss play­ing but I’m pretty happy with my stock in life.

The win that re­ally stands out

for me, be­cause he’s such a good friend of mine, we grew up play­ing to­gether, was Nick Price when he won the open at Turn­berry in ‘94. He holed a tram liner across the green on 17 against Jes­per Parnevik at the time, so that was great be­cause he al­ways wanted to win an Open. He didn’t ac­tu­ally have the ideal game for the Open but it was his week.

Nick’s one of those play­ers

we were con­stantly try­ing to get his stance wider so he had a bet­ter base. As the week went on his feet got nar­rower and nar­rower and I told him, geez if this tour­na­ment goes to Mon­day you’re go­ing to be play­ing with your feet crossed. Get those damn feet wider would you!

I’ve known Raf

[Rafa Cabr­era Bello] since he was 15. He used to play junior golf with my eldest son. It was prob­a­bly six years ago now when he called me and he said ‘I don’t re­ally think I reach­ing my po­ten­tial’ even though I think he’s won the Aus­trian Open. He was re­ally a good player, re­ally de­ter­mined and get­ting bet­ter in ev­ery area, whether it be his fit­ness, his nu­tri­tion or the mental side. It was quite in­ter­est­ing be­cause in the start he was a lit­tle bit re­luc­tant, he’s got a very strong mind and he’s only go­ing to do what he wants to do so there was quite a bit of per­sua­sion needed.

He’s al­ways had this great rhythm

but it cov­ered up a lot of ills in his swing. It was fairly long, it was pretty loose and a lot re­lied on his tim­ing. Over the years we’ve got his swing way more func­tional, ef­fi­cient, shorter and he’s a re­ally good ball striker now. His short game is get­ting bet­ter, that’s one thing we’ve worked on quite hard as well, a va­ri­ety of shots around a green.

He’s a lit­tle bit of a per­fec­tion­ist

and that’s one thing that can hold a player back be­cause this game, I al­ways say the greats have two things in com­mon, they han­dle ad­ver­sity well and have short me­mories. You can’t let that stuff linger. He’s work­ing at that, he knows he’s a lit­tle an­gry and his ex­pec­ta­tions are pretty high. Golf is so much be­tween the ears so if you get that bit sorted out and tidy the rest and be­come a lit­tle more consistent with his putting… he’s got all the in­gre­di­ents.

I hon­estly feel his best golf is be­fore him.

He’s at a good age, 33-34, so for the next three, to four years I think it’s go­ing to be his win­dow where he re­ally steps out and shows what he’s ca­pa­ble of.

Pho­to­graphs by Naveed Si­raj

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