My latest Sympatico column is online, this one about David Leadbetter — the full column can be found here.
“Everyone is looking for the secret.”
That’s one of the first remarks uttered to me by David Leadbetter, swing coach to the stars, as he leans back in a plastic chair in an expansive Toronto conference centre. As workers flitter around making last-minute adjustments to booths around us in preparation for the show, where Leadbetter will spend the day tweaking the swings of 20-handicap hackers on behalf of golf equipment maker Callaway, the swing doctor talks about the prescription he’s written for Trevor Immelman.
Immelman is Leadbetter’s on-again, off-again student who won the 2008 Masters, but who has since been bogged down with injuries and concerns about his swing. To Leadbetter, 58, practically every golfer is striving to solve the mystery that would suddenly make them a better player. It doesn’t matter if they are a weekend chop or the winner of the British Open “ they all feel they can improve.
Leadbetter, born in England and who kicked around on the South African and European Tours before becoming a golf teacher, knows this first hand. Though he’s worked with everyone from Ernie Els to Nick Faldo and Ian Baker-Finch to Curtis Strange, he’s also seen his pupils drift to other teachers, regardless of the victories they recorded while toiling with the man who may well be the most successful swing coach in history. That students come and go is just part of the game now, he points out, noting that long time student Justin Rose has spent the past couple of years working with Canadian Sean Foley. Maybe he’s a jaded veteran of professional golf now, a business he’s been running for more than 30 years. Or maybe Leadbetter is just pragmatic. Either way, rather than sounding jealous of the success of newcomers like Foley, who also worked for a spell last year with Immelman, Leadbetter is of the opinion that students are always seeking ways to improve rapidly. If another swing guru offers them that chance, then they are prepared to change their place of worship.
“Look, Sean Foley works with Justin Rose now, who I worked with for many years,” he says. “[Rose] asked me to look at his swing the other day and yes, it is looking good. It isn’t that different, but his perception is that it is miles different. And those are things that can spur a player on.”