INTERVIEW

'The game can drive you crazy. It gives a fleeting look at what you possibly could achieve. And the next minute it’s gone.'

DAVID LEADBETTER TALKS TO MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI ABOUT TEACHING PRESIDENTS, PROS, AND THE ‘INSTRUCTIONALLY CHALLENGED’

April 21 2008
INTERVIEW

'The game can drive you crazy. It gives a fleeting look at what you possibly could achieve. And the next minute it’s gone.'

DAVID LEADBETTER TALKS TO MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI ABOUT TEACHING PRESIDENTS, PROS, AND THE ‘INSTRUCTIONALLY CHALLENGED’

April 21 2008

'The game can drive you crazy. It gives a fleeting look at what you possibly could achieve. And the next minute it’s gone.'

DAVID LEADBETTER TALKS TO MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI ABOUT TEACHING PRESIDENTS, PROS, AND THE ‘INSTRUCTIONALLY CHALLENGED’

INTERVIEW

Known simply as “the golf guru, ” David Leadbetter has spent a lifetime teaching other people to play (or at least try to play) the hardest game ever invented. Some of the world’s top golfers— from Ernie Els to Nick Faldo to l8-year-old phenom Michelle Wie—swear by his advice. A pitchman for Callaway Golf, Leadbetter owns and operates more than two dozen instructional schools around the world, including a state-of-the-art facility in Whistler, B.C.

Q I have to start with the most obvious question, which is: why am I so bad at golf?

A: (Laughs.) Well,you’re probably just one of the many hundreds of thousands of people that play this game, that really watch it on TV and say: “Wow, those guys make it look so easy.” And we all know that the golf swing is a very precise movement, and in order to produce power and consistency, there’s a lot of factors that go into it. First of all, you have to have a lot of athletic ability, great hand-eye coordination, and having said that, even with those qualities you have to work at the game. It takes a lot of practice, and what these great players are able to dothrough all the practising and playing that they do—is build a repetitive swing. And that’s what many golfers aren’t able to do.

Q: Is that the big thing that differentiates the hacker from the pro? Is it all about time?

A: Obviously the talent level comes into it to a large extent, but you’ve got to put the

time in. You see all these pros on TV hitting these magical bunker shots and chip shots, but these guys have practised them for hours. So when you get the average golfer who doesn’t have any time to practise and just rushes out onto the golf course, it’s really not so surprising that people find this game difficult. So it’s like anything, if you put a little time in you get a lot out of it.

Q: People often refer to you as “the golf guru.” Is that a title you ever get used to?

A: It’s a nice accolade. I’ve been doing this for a long time with all sorts of different levels of players, but the fact of the matter is I’m still learning. That’s the great thing about it. There’s so much to know about the mind and how it works, and now there’s big studies in biomechanics to see how we can help people. We’re in a technologically advanced age and we’re sort of analyzing and dissecting everything we look at. But the danger with golf is that we over-think and get into the old syndrome of “paralysis through analysis.”

Q: Very true. So is it really that bad, then, for me to just stand there on the tee and say: “Forget this, I’m going to swing the driver as hard as I can and see what happens?”

A: A lot of people do tie themselves up in knots, and so the reason why you take the odd lesson, the reason why you go and practise, is so when you get out on the golf course your thought process should be: “Okay, I’m just going to hit the ball to the target.” You can’t stand up there, tied up in a knot about doing this and doing that,

because you can’t play golf like that.

Q: You’ve written eight books, we have thousands of other golf books, and we have Golf Digest magazine and all the other golf magazines out there. How can we possibly sift through all that information?

A: The volume of material out there is just ridiculous—just to get that little white ball in the hole. You can certainly get suffocated by all the material. In the end, if you want to play good golf you’ve got to keep it simple, and that’s why there’s nothing better than having a one-on-one lesson. Yeah, you might get the odd tip from a magazine and that can help, but generally speaking it’s best to get with somebody who really knows what they’re talking about. But golfers are junkies—they are always looking for something that they think is going to help them.

Q: When you look back on your career and all that you’ve accomplished, is it bittersweet to know that you’re such a great teacher, but never succeeded as a professional player?

A: If I had my druthers, absolutely I’d rather be a world-class player than a world-class teacher. When I was 14 years old playing golf I didn’t think: “Well, I want to be a great teacher.” I just wanted to get out and play, but you realize that there’s only a certain special few players that are going to be successful. The number of people that play golf around the world and the number of people that make a living out of it are few and far between. The damn game can drive you crazy, you know?

Q: Why does this game drive us so crazy?

A: Because it tempts us, it gives a fleeting look at what you possibly could achieve. And yet the next minute it’s gone. You’re always living in that hope that maybe I can get that feeling back. And this applies for even the tour players. Some of the best players in the world are saying: “It just doesn’t feel right today, my rhythm’s not right, there’s just something missing.”

Q: You must get stopped almost every day by a stranger asking for advice?

A: And in the most strange places, too—like urinals. The guy beside me will say: “Hey, aren’t you David Leadbetter? Can you help me with my grip?” I say: “Well, not right now, but yeah.” It’s fun, though. People think that maybe I have the secret, and I sort of say: “Yeah, I do have the secret, but I only let it out occasionally—and for the right price.”

Q: What is the right price, David?

A Well, I’m a bit like Robin Hood because I rob from the rich to give to the poor. I’ve got a lot of academies around the world, close to 30, but I don’t have the time to be in one location. I do give instruction on a limited basis, and my fee is $10,000 a day. It’s expensive, absolutely, but I spend a lot of time with that person. On the other hand, I get a lot of kids or young pros who can’t afford it and I’ll basically work with them for nothing, so, you know, it just depends.

Q:And someone willing to pay $10,000for your time obviously can afford $10,000.

A: Exactly.

Q: Does that put extra pressure onyou when you’re just trying to have a nice, fun round of golf with friends? Do you feel as though you have to hit every shot perfectly because that’s what people would expect?

A: It does. The fact is everybody expects you to hit it like Ernie Els, and you think, “Jeez.” But as the old saying goes: “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.”

Q: Is that true?

A: To some extent. It’s bit of a joke, really, but there are some very fine players who’ve never fulfilled their potential and teach, and there’s also some very fine players who play for a living and couldn’t teach worth a darn because they can’t communicate. So it’s definitely a different branch of the profession.

Q: Mike Weir is Canada’s most recognizable golfer. The whole country celebrated his 2003 victory at the Masters. But it seems like he may have peaked. Do you think he has the talent to win another green jacket?

A: He’s definitely got that mentality. He’s very serious and he’s very focused. You could maybe say he’s a bit limited from a physical

stature standpoint—he’s a short guy—but he hits a decent length and he’s an excellent wedge player. But unfortunately he’s living in the age of Tiger Woods, and so everybody is sort of sucking fumes. With Tiger, it’s constant. He’s getting better and better every year and he works on all his weaknesses.

Q: Has there ever been an athlete like Tiger, who instills such fear in his competitors?

A: No. He keeps everybody else at bay. There is some special trait that he has. I don’t know really what it is. He is incredible in the way that he’s able to do things under pressure. He was just born for this.

Q: How much have Tiger and his peers benefited from technology that players like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer just didn ’t have? It seems that these days, the clubs and the balls are so sophisticated that they actually do most of the work, and that golf is becoming a lot more like, say, Formula One racing.

A: I’ll tell you what: if Tiger was using hickory he’d win. Now, technology has helped to get things more precise. A lot of younger players, their technique has changed somewhat from the old days because now they’re going at the ball so much harder because the clubs are more stable and more forgiving. It’s not the precision game it used to be. So Tiger has certainly benefited from technology, but he’s the sort of player that, technology or no technology, he would have been great.

Q: But are you comfortable with all the improvements that have been made to the equipment? Are the clubs so advanced now that the integrity of the game has suffered?

A: You could say they’re making golf courses obsolete, but how do you stop progress? People would still be driving around in oxdrawn carts or something, you know? Besides, isn’t golf still a difficult game? The standard of golf hasn’t really improved to any great extent. I mean, yes, they hit more good shots and they probably hit some longer ones, and it’s a little bit more forgiving, but golf is still very much a technique-oriented game.

Q: Why can’t fans heckle the players on the PGA Tour? Golfers complain when a spectator snaps a photo during his swing, yet a baseball player has to endure all kinds of noise while trying to hit a 98-mile-an-hour pitch.

A: Traditionally, golf has always been a sport where you play in silence, and there’s etiquette involved, and there’s respect involved, and personally I think that’s nice. I think it’s a nice link to the past that hey, this is a place where you haven’t got cellphones buzzing or shouting and screaming. Golf is a gentleman’s sport, and I think that’s the way it should be.

Q: Are some people simply unteachable because their golf game is just so bad?

A: We get the odd person who, yeah, is sort

of “instructionally challenged.” There are some people who have quirky swings, who have created habits through the years that are very difficult to change. And, yeah, there are people who literally you could say: “Well, listen, tennis might be your game, because it’s a much bigger surface.”

Q: Maybe they could work as caddies?

A: Right, exactly.

Q: How old are you?

A: I’m 55 now.

Q: So do you see yourself retiring into a life of golf or will you do something else?

A: (Laughs.) I’ll always be involved in golf to some extent. It’s a great sport, and let’s face it, it’s allowed me to travel to fantastic places, to meet great people, to socialize with people I wouldn’t otherwise socialize with— I’ve taught presidents, prime ministers, kings and movie stars—so that’s the beauty of the

‘Golfers are junkies— always looking for something that they think is going to help them'

sport. It does bring all sorts of people together, all walks of life, all sorts of persuasions and all sorts of beliefs. You even get old what’shis-name, the ruler of North Korea.

Q: Kim Jong-il? He’s a golfer?

A: They’ve got one golf course in North Korea, and he was reputed to shoot, for 18 holes, something like 51—with about five holes-in-one! I don’t think anybody would dare disagree with him.

Q: He certainly doesn’t need any tips from you, then.

A: No, not with that scoring! M