Superstar swing guru David Leadbetter was in Toronto yesterday, [photopress:leadbetter1.jpg,full,alignright]running a corporate outing for Callaway at a downtown office tower, making stops at a Golf Town and generally pushing his brand. He gave a few media hacks some quick swing tips (I declined a lesson, largely because of a sore right knee and the fact I haven’t swung a club since November), and instead settled in to ask a number of questions about a couple of Leadbetter’s most notable pupils, namely damaged teen Michelle Wie and South African star Ernie Els.
Leadbetter was surprisingly candid, offering an honest assessment of Wie’s mistakes and the situation with Els, who was spotted on the range working with Butch Harmon last week.
I asked Leadbetter, who has been pretty outspoken on the mistakes in the Wie camp, why he hadn’t been tossed aside like all the other advisers/agents/managers who have tangled with the teen’s parents. He took the question quite seriously, and though he didn’t address it directly, Leadbetter had some interesting things to say:
“This girl is so talented, she could do anything she wants to do in the world of golf. But people in her camp — and I’m not going to name them — have been a bit off on what she can and can’t do. It is tough that she’s a part-time golfer, unlike the other girls who work at it 24/7. In the past she’d go to school, pick it up and just play. Now there’s a lot more pressure on her. These girls — Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Annika — these girls are good. And it is hard for Michelle to be a bit player.
A “bit player.” Not overly optomistic. But it sounds like Leadbetter wasn’t thrilled with having his advice ignored:
Last year there was no way she should have played. I categorically said that a few times. She was injured, she broke her wrist and came back way too early. Everyone said that was okay, she’d work her way back to playing well again. But she started having swing problems and lost her confidence. And hopefully she hasn’t lost that. She’s reinjured her wrist a week ago — and I said, ‘Michelle, let’s learn from last year and not play unless you are healthy.’ Fortunately they’ve listened this time.
“Listened this time.” Make it sounds like Wie’s parents have rarely taken the advice of the pros that surround their daughter which was resulted in the current mess. Most of which stems from the decision to tee it up last year despite Wie’s injuries:
“It takes a long time to build up your reputation and not long to tear it down. The vultures are out there. She went about it in an unusual way. Hey I guess it is the way of the world. The girls are a bit anti-Michelle. She’s going to have to work hard to build up her reputation again. It is tough for an 18-year-old to handle. Her parents are desperately trying to do the right thing … but there are certain lessons out there.
If she hadn’t played last year, people may have a different opinion. They say she made a smart move not playing while injured. But she’s gone from a world beater to someone who can hardly make the cut.”
Lastly, Leadbetter said Wie needs to start making decisions for herself:
She has to have a say in her own career. She’s not 12-years old any longer. She has got to get the show back on the road.
Leadbetter had some other interesting notes. Ernie Els, who has worked with Leadbetter for 20 years, was seen with Butch Harmon at the CA Championship on the weekend. Leadbetter said that makes sense, especially since he isn’t out on tour full-time any longer. Leadbetter added:
It is tough for a player like Ernie, a player looking for something.
Finally, Leadbetter said if given the choice of picking Tiger or the field at the Masters, he’d take Tiger. Oh, and he’s got a teenage student currently who flies the ball 350 in the air and can run the 100-metre in 10.7 seconds. That’s where the new Tiger will be found Leadbetter said. From among a group of new athletes embracing the game.