David Leadbetter, still one of the games foremost coaches ‘specialises’ in coaching women golfers. ‘Lead’ says that he can’t quite figure out why there should be any differentials in short game skills but there are. Around the greens (not so much on them) men are usually markedly superior to women.
Leadbetter does have a few theories: Greater strength in the fingers, hands and wrists allows males to grip the club ‘softer,’ which brings greater ‘touch’ and control in the short shots. Young boys tend to experiment with a variety of shots more from a young age, which is when someone’s short game develops. That’s as far as the theory goes which left me slightly disappointed and mystified by his recently published book: The A-Swing in which Leadbetter attempts to simplify something that is endlessly complicated – the golf swing itself.
“Golf is difficult because there is a lot of motion involved in getting the club back to the ball,” he says. “And it has to be a controlled motion. It’s not like reacting to a moving object. A lot can go wrong – and it does!” Who’s he telling? It’s a confusing topic. “The key is getting the club on the right plane coming down. How you get there is immaterial.”
The book is devoted to helping us ‘find’ the backswing that will create a better downswing. Leadbetter has always preached the advantages of having a backswing that is a little more upright in order to produce a shallower downswing. The book concentrates on developing a more extreme version of that philosophy.
There is a certain irony in this. Back when he was guiding Faldo to the top, Leadbetter was regularly accused of being “overly technical”. Now, he is viewed as more of a “feel” teacher. One who sees the swing as more art than science. Ironically, this has come about at a time in the game’s history when the incontrovertible laws of physics and science have gained a decisive upper hand and are threatening to submerge the art factor.
“The game has become very scientific, perhaps too much so,” says Leadbetter. “Even in putting, it is the case. When I spoke with Brad Faxon the other day, one of the best putters ever in the history of golf, he told me that when he coaches someone these days, he has to put aside all of his thoughts on feel and imagery. People seem only to want to hear about technology and how it will make the game easier. Hard work seems to have gone out of fashion. If it is mentioned, people think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which is crazy.
“Golf is never going to be an exact science. Ideally, it should be a blend. It’s nice to have tools like Trackman, but no machine should be followed religiously. Back in the day, people would come to me for lessons and it was only my opinion that their swings were bad. Now we can actually prove they are bad. On the other hand, when someone is swinging really well, you have the exact numbers to look at. So, it should be easier to get back there if you have strayed marginally. It’s all about margins!”
Amid all of this, however, Leadbetter does have one big concern regarding the women’s game as a whole.
“I think we are going to see much shorter careers as bodies break down. It will affect girls more,” he says. “Look at Michelle Wie. The injuries she has now are absolutely related to the fact that she beat balls for five hours a day off mats when she was a kid. We better get used to the idea that players are not going to be out there for three decades. There are only so many balls in anyone’s tank. Lydia Ko was number one when she was 17. And she says she will retire at 30″.
I have stuck my neck out and said male pro careers won’t be going too far past 35 either – unless the technology changes and hitting the ball with all out power on every shot is halted.