From the Editor
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: What are the advantages for someone attending a four-day Academy?
Leadbetter: Having instruction over an extended period of time is a much better way to learn or to improve one's game. First, we analyze where one's game is currently at; and secondly, we give you a blueprint of what one should be working on in the future. And learning with other people, in a low teacher to student ratio, does make a difference too. For example, many mid- to higher handicap players will have similar faults and tendencies which can be observed by one another in the program. But essentially, a four-day program allows someone to have both a good understanding of the game and then be able to implement some changes.
TM: From the teacher's standpoint, what's the tougher aspect: the understanding or the implementation?
Leadbetter: Instilling the understanding of what's wrong with someone's swing is really not too difficult. Neither is telling them what to do to correct it. The tough job is communicating the "feel" changes necessary for improvement. And that may take awhile. But our teachers are highly trained to fathom out, in a short space of time, a program that a golfer should follow. At The Meadows, the students will be in excellent hands with such instructors as Scott Holden. Our philosophy is have our students understand the basic techniques while building a repeating swing and a good short game. Learning to score lower hopefully will be the end result of all the practice.
TM: Do most people expect too much after going to a golf school or academy?
Leadbetter: Yes, there is a tendency for instant gratification. That's why we don't hit a lot of golf balls during the first day of our academy. We want more analysis and the understanding of certain concepts. We don't want to give just a tip that someone might receive if he or she takes a half-hour lesson. And with video we can illustrate and show you the right technique by looking at the best swings in the game, like Ernie Els or Nick Price. But for sure, improving one's game takes time. We golf professionals are not holding back any secrets from the public. The key for a student is being patient and not being unrealistic about making progress.
TM: Do your academies have a specific methodology?
Leadbetter: I like to say we have a philosophy rather than a methodolgy. We want to allow our teachers--who are all full-time and certified-- to have some flexibility and creativity with their students. We don't say everyone should swing the same way--that's not what we're all about. We try to tailor our instruction to the individual. We have to account for playing abilities, physical well-being, and how much time they have to play and practice. Within that framework we design a program for that particular player.
TM: It's a trusim that the best teachers are good communicators. Can you give an example of how you've communicated or rephrase a message so someone will actually feel the right technique?
Leadbetter: Different people respond and learn in different ways. But for instance I like to impress upon golfers to be in a good position halfway back in their swing. Instead of focusing on the club at the top of the backswing, we like to focus on the club halfway back. If one is in a good position there then one just has to complete the turn. If you're in a good, on-plane position halfway back the club will feel "light." Likewise, if you're in a bad position halfway back the club will feel "heavy." Another effective drill is for students to swing with their eyes closed. They can feel the club much better and internalize the sensations.
TM: David, your work with such players as Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Nick Price, David Frost and scores of other top pros is well-known and chronicled. But I'm more curious as to your work with someone like Jim Carter who finally won earlier this year in Tucson. Afterwards he said the key to his success was the time and work spent with you.
Leadbetter: As a teacher or swing coach, I'm using psychology to a large extent when teaching Tour pros. Jim was a high calibre player; he had won the NCAA Championship (in '83) and had a fairly successful first year on Tour. But then he went downhill after that. Tour players must have confidence in their game and in the way they're striking the ball--the confidence in their swing repeatability if you will. Ian Baker-Finch is an example of someone who lost the confidence in his swing. He just lost that feeling of knowing confidently where the ball was going off the tee. But with Jim Carter I told him it wasn't anything mental or a simple matter of confidence. It was faulty technique that had caught up with him. He was too loose in his swing. So we tightened up his swing and in fact shortened it. But most importantly we gave him an understanding of his swing so he could self-correct it if necessary. He now has an awareness of what his weaknesses and tendecies are.
TM: I read where you came to the U.S. in the early 70s and began attending PGA Teaching Seminars with such noted teachers as Jim Flick, Gary Wiren and the late Bill Strausbaugh. What stuck with you in terms of their teaching?
Leadbetter: Well, my first reaction was realizing that teaching was serious business over here. It was quite an eye opener seeing these well-known teachers giving lectures and seminars. I was also struck that there was a methodology to what they were doing. I remember Bill Strausbaugh teaching the principles of pitching by emphasizing "triangle, track and target." He didn't want a handsy, wristy move but instead wanted the triangle formed by hands and arms to move back along a track and then directly forward to the target. I still use that thought today with some players.
TM: If you could go back in time, what golfers and/or teachers would you like to meet and discuss the game?
Leadbetter: One of my favorite golf writers is Percy Boomer who only wrote one book called "On Learning Golf." It's a fabulous book that not only involves technique but also incorporates the mental side of the game and how instinct must play a part. He popularized the notion of "turning in the barrel." A lot of the older writers were more into the feel of the swing. As matter of fact, I wanted to meet Percy's brother, Aubrey, a few years ago but unfortunately he died before we had a chance to meet. Another famous instructor I would've liked to have met was Seymour Dunn. He was a very analytical instructor who talked about swing planes and the like and was ahead of his times. And it would be fascinating to sit down and talk golf with someone like Old Tom Morris. And one time, I did have the chance to sit down and talk with Bobby Locke. Here was a guy who really did it his own way--he hit everything with a big hook--whether he was putting or hitting tee shots. Today, Jack Nicklaus is still someone who you'd never tire from talking about the game. Here's the ultimate thinking golfer who managed his game better than anyone in the history of the game.
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
Part II of the Interview between Michigan Golfer and David Leadbetter will appear in the next issue.
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