Interview: Leadbetter pointing way forward again

David Leadbetter, one of the world's leading golf instructors, demonstrates to Chris Stratford the backswing element of the A Swing during his recent visit to the Leadbetter Golf Academy at the Leeds Golf Centre at Wike Ridg (Picture: Steve Riding).
David Leadbetter, one of the world's leading golf instructors, demonstrates to Chris Stratford the backswing element of the A Swing during his recent visit to the Leadbetter Golf Academy at the Leeds Golf Centre at Wike Ridg (Picture: Steve Riding).
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IF THERE was an inclination to memorialise a coach’s assistance in major successes – and space on the trophies for their names – the talk in recent years would have been of Tiger Woods chasing down David Leadbetter’s 19 successes, not Jack Nicklaus’s 18.

Leadbetter has helped steer golfing luminaries such as Ernie Els, Nick Price and, most famously, Sir Nick Faldo towards victory in the sport’s four elite competitions – the Open, the US Open, the Masters and US PGA.

He is is credited with creating the modern golf instruction industry and has 25 academies in 12 countries around the world bearing his name – including at Leeds Golf Centre, Wike Ridge – has others opening in Asia and the United States, and further developments in South America are being explored.

While the tournament record books will not reflect his subsidiary role in title triumphs, any chronicling of the development of the golf swing will see his name writ large for he was a pioneer in creating a sea-change in thinking, away from a leg-dominated swing to one where the bottom half of the body is kept quiet and stable.

And it is likely that any setting down of the Leadbetter legacy will need to be redrafted following the latest evolutionary aspect to his method of teaching – the A Swing, in which A stands for alternative.

On meeting up with him at Wike Ridge, where he had been imparting the ideas behind the A Swing to a privileged group of students, I suggested to him that history will pay homage to his role in golf coaching, but he quickly deflected all the credit.

He claims he was fortunate in his first high-level pupil, Faldo, having such a fierce worth ethic to practice the teachings to an extent where they helped him to six major triumphs – three in each of the Open and the Masters.

He acknowledges the game has been good to him, which it undoubtedly has, but what quickly becomes clear is that the twin driving forces behind Leadbetter’s seemingly ceaseless search to find the best ways of teaching golf are his love of the game and his desire to ensure everyone plays it to their maximum potential.

“It was pretty much the case that Nick Faldo became a role model for not only his technique but his practice habits,” recalled Leadbetter. “Back in the days when we were working together most of the players didn’t have coaches.

“I subsequently worked with a lot of players because most players weren’t doing it (employing a coach), but now very, very few players apart from maybe [twice Masters champion] Bubba Watson do not have a coach and so it has certainly changed in that regard.”

But it is the average club golfer who is likely to be drawn to the A Swing with its premis of minimal practice and maximum benefit.

From anyone else this might come across as the disingenuous endorsement of a snake oil salesman, but coming from one of the world’s most eminent coaches it is quite rightly making people sit up and take notice.

Based on two years of studying with a French bio-mechanic, the A Swing – the science reports – is 20 per cent more efficient, but it is the poetic rather than the prosaic which appeals to Leadbetter’s golfing soul.

He wants people to get more enjoyment from their game, and believes the A Swing can lead to both better ball striking and subsequently lower scoring.

“I can understand why people get frustrated with the game,” he said.

“They might not have a lot of time to practise their game and if they go out and they’re losing half their golf balls they can end up questioning why the hell they would want to be playing.

“Included in the A Swing book is a little seven-minute practice plan because we know it is difficult for some people to go down to the range and practise by hitting balls.

“Some people do and some people don’t. If they do get time for golf most want to go out and play on the course, so we included a practice plan which, essentially, is six little swing exercises that we developed.

“We have even produced a short club you can practice with, so there’s no excuse if you’re travelling; you can take the little club with you and you do these little exercises indoors, 10 repetitions of each exercise.

“If you do it a couple of times a week we’ve discovered people start to develop the muscle memory necessary to create a feel for the movement so when they are out on the course they don’t have to overthink it.

“That is crucial because if you are giving someone some new information they are going to have to think about it, but you really, ultimately, don’t want someone overthinking on the course.

“You want them to free their mind up; if you can have confidence in what you’re doing and have a good feel for it you can go out and play.”

He continued: “The A Swing has been really well received in America in the last six weeks and we have had an unbelievable response.

“It’s the first instruction book that I have brought out for 10 years. It’s a little controversial and it’s changing the paradigm a little bit about what should happen in the swing.

“Hopefully this will simplify the approach to teaching and enable golfers to achieve whatever potential they have. I’m not saying everyone can be a scratch golfer, but everyone can enjoy the game.”

One testimonial he received was while at the recent Women’s 
US Open when a club professional said he had not only worked on the A Swing to the benefit of his own game but had enjoyed such great success teaching it to a couple of members that word had spread and his lesson book was full for the coming three months.

Although Leadbetter has used science and the latest technological equipment available to formulate his theory, he believes golfers – in general – are bombarded with too much information which they can neither process nor from which they can benefit.

“We analyse swings very differently with all this technology; we have force plates and launch monitors and brain mapping and 3-D analysis, but all it does is basically prove how bad your swing is and quantifies it, but it doesn’t tell you how to fix it so this is a way that you can really feel what’s going on and most people see immediate results.”

Certainly the group he worked with at Wike Ridge were impressed, some drawing the ball for the first time in their lives as opposed to suffering from the bane of the weak golfer’s life – the slice.

“It is very much an anti-slice swing,” he said, adding, “but it is not only for weekend golfers.

“I’ve been working with (last year’s world No 1 woman player) Lydia Ko and she is probably 20 yards longer now because she is able to draw the ball.”

At Wike Ridge, he patiently posed for all the photographs asked for and explained in detail the thinking behind the A Swing, which seems sure to advance swing theory once again.

It is difficult to imagine there being a more amiable or more accommodating preacher of the gospel of golf than Leadbetter.