David Leadbetter Golf Teacher: Golf’s First Celebrity Instructor

    Does the teacher make the student, or does the student make the teacher? In the case of David Leadbetter and Nick Faldo, probably a bit of both.

    Leadbetter, who had recently abandoned his playing career to pursue a teaching career, met Faldo in 1984. Despite winning the European Tour’s Order of Merit (money list) in 1983, Faldo was frustrated by his inability to finish the deal in a major championship. He asked Leadbetter to take a look at his swing, and the upstart instructor was none too impressed.

    “It was a very old-style 1970s swing with a high-hands finish and a lot of leg slide,” Leadbetter told Golf Digest. “His main goal was to win an Open, and he knew his swing needed to be rebuilt to accomplish what he wanted to do."

    A partnership was formed, but it didn’t bear fruit overnight. In fact, Faldo – cruelly dubbed “Nick Foldo” by the British press – went three years between victories before breaking through at the Peugeot Spanish Open in 1987. He followed two months later with that long-coveted major, the Open Championship at Muirfield, and was off and running.

    Faldo would claim six major titles – three Opens, three Masters – and spend 98 weeks as the world’s top-ranked golfer. Leadbetter received a healthy dose of credit for his fellow Englishman’s success, and a new model for the teacher-student relationship was born.

    While pros had worked with swing coaches before, most notably
    Jack Nicklaus
    with Jack Grout, Faldo and Leadbetter were the first to forge an essentially full-time team. Leadbetter traveled with Faldo to tournaments and offered constant guidance during practice sessions, before and after rounds, and between events.

    Today such partnerships are the rule, not the exception.

    Of course, Faldo wasn’t the only stud in Leadbetter’s stable. He also tutored Nick Price, Greg Norman and Ernie Els, all ranked No. 1 during their careers. As golf’s original “celebrity instructor,” he’s opened 28 David Leadbetter Golf Academy locations in 13 countries, including China. And as Golf Digest’s second-ranked teacher in America (behind Butch Harmon), Leadbetter commands a pretty penny for personal lessons -- $3,500 for three hours.

    Perhaps Leadbetter can thank Faldo for his success. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Most likely, it’s a simple case of serendipity, where two great talents merge in the right place, at the right time.

    Any way you look at it, the pairing made a lasting impact on golf.

    Famous students: Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Greg Norman, Darren Clarke, Trevor Immelman, Ian Poulter, Charles Howell III, Michelle Wie 

    Core philosophy: Leadbetter’s teaching flows from four fundamentals – grip, swing plane, release and tempo. Unlike “system” instructors, who teach the same basic moves to every golfer, he believes there’s a swing that’s right for each student based on their body type and natural rhythm. The challenge is to find it.

    A couple of key tenets of Leadbetter’s philosophy:

    1) Golfers should grip the club more in the fingers than the palms. The handle should diagonally cross the base of the fingers on the left hand, rather than the top or center of the palm.

    2) The arms and body must be in sync at the top of the backswing and at impact to deliver optimum power, accuracy and consistent ballstriking.

    Classic Leadbetter-style tip: He doesn’t dismiss the classic advice to take the club back “low and slow,” but Leadbetter believes golfers focus too intently on the “slow” part. This causes them to speed up once they arrive at the top, then jerk the club downward and decelerate into the ball.

    As instructor to Nick Price, a player with a very quick tempo, Leadbetter understands that the speed of one’s takeaway is secondary to the arms, shoulders and hips working in unison.

    Leadbetter teaches students to:

    • Focus on rotating the shoulders and upper body in conjunction with the arms, turning away from the target.
    • Forget about the pace of the backswing – get the parts working together and you’ll find your natural tempo.