Growing up NEXT with David Leadbetter
So it's little wonder why three of golf's most recognizable up-and-comers -- Paul Creamer, Michelle Wie and Ty Tryon -- all sought Leadbetter's tutelage to prepare them for the competition they now face in professional tournaments. And why Robert Howard sends his two daughters, Ginger and Robbi, just 11 and 9 years old respectively, to Leadbetter's academy in Florida to hone their still-developing golf games.
Leadbetter will drop by at 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday to talk golf and offer his insight into professionalization of youth sports, where globetrotting children as young as 5 years old are flying from foreign countries to compete for "world championships." Send your questions now and join David in chat Tuesday afternon.
Vance Cincinnati, Ohio
David, my son is eight years old and is just now beginning to show interest in golf. Being in Ohio it's obviously not feasible to play year round. How important is that to the development of young players? And if you had a key area to focus on in those winter months what would it be?
David Leadbetter (2:24 PM)
I think if you look at history, you'll find that many golfers, including Jack Nicklaus, really didn't play a whole lot of golf in winter. In fact, I think it's important for kids to take a form of break from the game. Certainly we're hearing these days of youngsters playing 12 months a year, but since it's a relatively new phenomenon, we're not sure what the burnout situation is going to be in the future. I've always felt that great golfers are good athletes; they play different sports, which helps them with hand-eye coordination, etc. So playing a sport like basketball in the winter is a good thing to undertake. Which doesn't mean that periodically a young golfer in northern climes couldn't go out and hit a few balls in a driving range, or putt a few balls, or -- in the 12 to 15 age range -- work on an exercise program geared toward golf. But I think it's a good idea to take a break from the game. It will recharge their batteries come spring. And when the child gets a little bit older, in the teenage years, then, depending on how serious they are about the game, that may be a case of possibly trying to play a little bit more in the winter, going away for a little time, if they can afford it.
Brian (Cleveland, OH)
With the very small amount of athletes that get college scholarships and the even smaller amount of athletes that succeed professionally, are there too many children being unnecessarily pushed by overbearing parents to succeed at athletics?
David Leadbetter (2:29 PM)
I would say that question has been asked a lot through the years, and not just in golf. Golf seems to have come to the forefront lately with the advent of Tiger Woods. We all realize the number of kids who will be successful in college or in the professional game is going to be minimal. But certainly, regarding golf, and perhaps other sports, the fact is that in this day and age, with the trouble and all the other things that kids can get into today, to get into sport and give it 110 percent, and the parents can get involved -- it's better than being in the mall where the parents can't be around the kids. And it's a lot of fun for parents to travel to all these tournaments. If the kid plays better, all the better. Let's face it, between malls and computer games, people have grown up playing sports and sports have played a major role in the lifestyle. Yes, you do get the parents who play the game through the kids' eyes; but those are the minority. For kids who have a passion, and you can develop a decent golf game at a young age, it's going to help you later in business, you can play with your spouse, you can play with your kids. I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.
David, Portland OR
Hi David, should a parent try to get lessons for a young child or let his natural ability develop his swing?
David Leadbetter (2:32 PM)
I think at an early stage that to let a child just go out and have fun and hit the ball around is the best idea. Once they become mentally mature enough, and for some kids that could be age 6, for others age 10 or 11, a little instruction to set them on the right line is a very good idea. Also, having somebody else instruct your kids -- in my case I have one of my instructors handle my kids -- is important. Because it's not easy for parent to teach his offspring. They don't seem to listen as well. I found the same situation with my wife, who played on the LPGA Tour, and she listened to me a lot better before than after she joined the tour! I think instruction helps golfers get a better understanding of the game, without getting too many bad habits. Helps them understand course strategy, and develop a passion for the game. So it's probably a good idea to look around your area for a teacher who has a good reputation working with kids.
Matt (Bethlehem, PA)
David, Are you still working with Ty Tryon? If so, what is the state of his game?
David Leadbetter (2:36 PM)
I see Ty periodically. He is still developing his game. He has amazing talent. I think basically, although he had the talent to succeed on the tour, when he was 17 he didn't have the mental maturity to go with it. This is what he is now learning. There is so much more than knowing how to strike a ball and hole a few putts. The best players in the world are very organized, structured and they follow a set routine. A lot of youngsters are incapable of doing that. And you only realize that when a player like Ty plays on the tour. The thing he was lacking more than anything else was his organizational skills, and how handle all the outside pressure that come with tour golf. Because it's a huge step up from junior golf, where your parents are carting you around the country, and getting you out of bed and making you breakfast. If he can learn from his mistakes, which he seems to be, Ty will be a tremendous tour player, given his youthfulness -- he's still 21. And he's had a lot of golf experience to this point. Next time he plays on the tour, he'll be far better equipped to handle tour life.
Scott, Pittsburgh, PA
Where does a parent draw the line between encouragement and providing opportunities for a child to succeed versus becoming overbearing. For example, a child will not be successful in they do not have the internal desire to practice but when should a parent "push" a child to practice.
David Leadbetter (2:42 PM)
That's a very good question because we realize that everyone who plays this game has a very different personality and mentality. Some players have a work ethic of a Vijay Singh or Tiger Woods. Other players have a little bit of a laid back attitude like Ernie Els. You could probably include Annika Sorenstam with Tiger and Vijay. But in this day and age I maintain that you cannot get by on talent alone, and if you are going to be successful, you're going to put in a lot of work and sacrifice. And that's the same no matter what you're trying to do -- even piano. If you're going to reach the top, you're going to have to put in the time. Now, I've seen a lot of talent players who could reach the top, but they lack of passion, desire or dedication or perhaps their talent to some extent may be a hindrance, because things come easy. It's very difficult to instill that work ethic. It's a very fine line as parents that we walk in terms of how hard to push. Players like Tiger wanted to be pushed. In the final analysis, it's how we push these kids. The fact is, we have to make this fun. Maybe you have little bets with them. If it's a drill sargent routine, that's a problem. Sean O'Hair had a very domineering father and coached the game almost in a military fashion. Although Sean had great success as a junior, he really didn't have a lot of fun in life. So he finally rebelled, and unfortunately now has no contact with his father at all. He's achieved the success that his father is after, but at what price? We have to know when to not go beyond a certain point.
Joe (Orlando, FL)
My 11 year old is starting to play golf on his middle school team this fall. Regarding equipment, should I get him stock youth clubs, cut down and regrip men's clubs or something else?
David Leadbetter (2:45 PM)
Depends on the build of the youngster. If he's a big kid, you might be able to get him adult clubs. But if he's a small golfer, you have to be careful. He has to be able to swing the club without the club swinging him. So my advice is, one has to look at the fact that kids are growing. Golf clubs are expensive, but my advice is to get fitted by a professional. It's very important to have the right shaft, and right length. With irons, if they have been cut down, make sure the lie of the club is right. It needs to sit flushly on the ground.
Tom Farrey (2:46 PM)
How young is too young for kids to be competeing in global and national championships?
David Leadbetter (2:50 PM)
Youngsters are younger and younger when they're playing. At 6, they're probably a little young. But competition isn't bad. The idea that keeping it fun is important. Some kids, like Tiger, are playing now from the age of 3, and by the time they're six they're shooting some decent scores. A lot of it depends on the child, and a lot of it depends on the adult. If you're getting to the point where you're getting emotionally attached to what your six year old is shooting, that's way too much. If the kid's crying and doesn't want to be out there, you have to look at that, too. It has to be fun. The younger the kids are, the more fun it has to be. Just because a lot of kids who are six don't really know what's going on. I've had some parents get too serious about. I've even had parents fly from California fly their two year old here to have me see him hit balls. I actually saw the kid, and he could hit it, swung it back in John Daly fashion and hit it.
Tom Farrey (2:51 PM)
Please note that the above answer is from David, not me. I apologize for the error.
Matt (Bethlehem, PA)
David, Do you feel that there is a place for Michelle Wie in Men's golf?
David Leadbetter (2:55 PM)
I personally think if there is any female up to this point in time who could cross that gender gap, Michelle is that player. She certainly has the skill level. She has the power, a tremendous amount of power; some of the courses she plays on the ladies tour are too short. She's got to get stronger, and she's changing her physique to do that. That will help her power base to get out of thick rough, and if she can do that there's no reason she can't play on the men's tour. She's a pioneer and wants to test herself. If there's any sport where women could play on the men's tour, it's golf.
Mike Safety Harbor Fl
Do you think Michelle Wie should turn pro?
David Leadbetter (2:58 PM)
I think when you look at how Michelle has played this year, without actually winning, she would have won in excess of $700,000. That's quite a bit of money to leave on the table. Is she ready to turn pro and play the ladies game? Absolutely. But she really loves school, has designs on going to college, and she's trying to see if it's feasible to do both at the same time.
Rob (Oakland, CA)
What do you think the biggest turnoff is for pre-teen children in picking up the game?
David Leadbetter (2:59 PM)
I think the biggest turnoff is if kids just had to play with adults or parents the whole time. If kids have a small dose of that, but were able to play and compete with kids in their own age group, it will sustain their interest a lot more.
Paul (Portland, OR)
Will it ever be possible for Tiger Woods to be burned out? It seems like he loves the game even when its not loving him.
David Leadbetter (3:00 PM)
I think Tiger is very clever in the way he paces himself. If you look at the number of tournaments he plays each year, it's far less than the average tour player. And he does that to keep himself mentally fresh, to give him time to work on his game which he loves to do, and also participate in other activities like scuba diving. So, because of the balance, I don't think he'll get burned out.
Joe (Green Bay)
I have a major problem with this discussion. It seems to me like many parents are pushing their children too hard to be very good at 1 sport. They're kids!! Let them play as many sports as possible until they know what THEY want to do, not what the parent thinks they would be best at.
David Leadbetter (3:02 PM)
I would agree with your statement, Joe. Because a kid who plays a lot of different sports develops their senses in different ways. So it's better to have access to different sports, then when they decide that this is the sport they want to play, the decision is being made by them -- and in all probability it will be the right choice. So I would encourage kids to play a lot of different sports at a young age.
Tom Farrey (3:03 PM)
At what age does a kid have to take up golf to make it to the PGA Tour? In others, how late is too late?
David Leadbetter (3:08 PM)
There's a situation these days where kids are playing an individual sport at a young age. Nick Faldo only took up the sport of golf at age 15. But this is happening less often. There are advantages to taking up the game at a young age; you develop mechanical skills and a sense of game -- at a reasonably young age, up to 12. Not that it's impossible to do it after the age of 12, but if you want to reach the highest levels of the game, I'd say, you'd have to start by then. There are numerous players who started later, but even many of those players dabbled in the game before the age of 12. Everybody's starting early these days; there's competition; people are trying to get the attention of coaches, so the younger you start, the better. There are different routes to success, but after the age of 12 it's debatable whether they have a shot at playing professionally.
I must leave now but I've enjoyed answering these questions. Junior golf is a hot topic these days, and my feeling is is you can encourage your kids to play this great game it'll last them a lifetime.
Tom Farrey (3:09 PM)
David has left the room. Thanks for the questions. Enjoy the rest of the Growing Up Next series.