05 Feb 2017

Learning the Leadbetter way

David Leadbetter has coached some of the biggest names in the game including Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Ernie Els. These days he’s got one of the game’s fastest rising talents under his wing in the form of Spanish hotshot and Worldwide Golf columnist Rafa Cabrera Bello. We caught up with David during a recent visit to JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort to talk about the work the pair have done including his renowned ‘A Swing’ technique.

 

WWG: How did your relationship with Rafa come about and how does he compare with some of the major talents you have worked with?

David Leadbetter: I originally met Rafa when he was 15 at a junior tournament in America because he is the same age as my eldest son and they became friends. I’ve always known of Rafa and when he turned professional, I followed his career with great interest. About five years ago he asked for some help with his game to get to the next level so I accepted. In the last few years I have slowed down a little bit in terms of how much I coach. Back in the day I was working with up to a dozen Tour players a year which was a lot because I was travelling all over the world so I wanted to slow down a little bit. I always felt that Rafa had something special about him. I believed that my expertise and experience in some small way could help him.

 

WWG: What kind of work did you do with him to help him create this amazing level of consistency that he has?

David Leadbetter: Rafa’s always had a swing that has been pleasing to the eye and sometimes that covers up a few mistakes. Technically I felt that Rafa was a bit inconsistent especially with the driver. He’s certainly long enough but it was a matter of tidying things up and making his game more efficient. I want players to own their own swing.

Understanding

Rafa now has a greater understanding of what he has to do because we have simplified his swing. Now he doesn’t have many poor ball-striking days and his statistics have improved year after year so that’s why his results have been so consistent. He’s at a point now where he didn’t win this last season but he came so close so if he keeps knocking, the door will open. Rafa’s now a world class player that performed brilliantly in the Ryder Cup and well in America.

Experience

These experiences are not something you can buy or work on. There is some great stuff in store for him. Although he seems like a late bloomer in today’s game (32 years old), in the old days people didn’t even think about getting to their peak until their mid-30s. He turned pro fairly late and went to university for three years but every year he has got better and better. He’s a far better player now than when he won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in 2012. It’s just a matter of when, not if, for Rafa.

Winning ways

Once he wins a tournament, the floodgates will open and he has a distinct possibility in the next couple of years of winning a Major or two because he’s a very smart player that also has a new man on the bag. Colin Byrne has a lot of experience with the likes of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen so having that sort of team out there will only help bolster his game. Things are looking good.

Major winners

I’ve worked with a lot of tremendous Major winners throughout the years like Sir Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Ernie Els. You can tell when these players were ready. I see some great things in Rafa’s game and I think he is really starting to believe in himself now. He is a young guy that has a lot of balance in his life away from golf which helps him because when he comes back to golf from skiing or surfing etc. he is fresh and that’s the key. Look at someone like Jack Nicklaus whose career panned over four decades. Henrik Stenson played his best golf at around the age of 40 so Rafa has still got plenty of time. He also has the experience, talent and confidence to really go on and do some fantastic things.

WWG: What are the fundamentals of the A Swing technique and the philosophy behind that?

DL: The A Swing is just a commercial name that we have used that sounds cool and intriguing. A stands for ‘alternative’ because for many years people thought the golf swing was one plane that goes up and down but it doesn’t work that well in my opinion. I’ve always in some form or shape taught the A Swing. It’s an evolution of a technique I’ve been teaching for a while – not an epiphany!

Amateur problems

In golf, particular amateurs, the biggest problem they have is making a backswing because they are so worried about that, that they never get into the downswing and they continue that for their whole golfing life. We’ve simplified the backswing so make it a steeper and shallower downswing because for people that slice they come outside, in so this technique makes your body work better as the club is on the right plane.

Key to Success

The key is in golf is to make the two main components (your body and arms/hands) work in sync. If you only work with your body, your club will get out of position and vice versa. We’ve had some tremendous results this last year since the A-Swing came out because people found it easier to repeat. It’s not a method, it’s an approach and Rafa has a form of the A Swing. Everybody has various degrees of it. I liken it to a curry. You get the extreme version that very few players can actually do which is like the vindaloo. Then there’s the mid version that Rafa has.

Steeper backswing and shallow downswing

I’ve always been a believer of having a steeper backswing and a shallower downswing. Ever since I taught Nick Faldo, you can look at his swing and look at Nick Price’s and even the great Jack Nicklaus’. They all have a swing like this.

Swing like baseball

The swing is a little bit like a baseball swing in the way that the bat is held high then it changes pane as it moves to hit the ball. That’s the whole principle behind the A Swing.

Synchronise arms and body

Ultimately if your arms and body are synchronised together, that’s all the counts in the swing and the A Swing for most people really helps them to do that. We’ve found that people can practice less and get quicker results.

 

WWG: Any thoughts or plans to open up a Dubai golf academy here in the future?

David Leadbetter: We have 34 academies in 14 countries now and this is an area we should be in. This is my first visit to Dubai so I’m hoping to make some good contacts because I know my system and approach has helped thousands of golfers around the world. We also have a great system for training coaches to help grow the game at grass roots level. We’d love to set up here with the beautiful golf courses, weather and great people so we are looking forward to possibly having the opportunity to come back again so watch this space.

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