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Driver's Ed

Old-School Golf Instruction Gives Way to New Techniques that Can Teach You Even if You're Not Ben Hogan
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Gene Hackman, Sep/Oct 00

(continued from page 1)

Jim McLean is another swing guru who teaches numerous tour players, including Brad Faxon, senior tour dynamo Dana Quigley and former U.S. Open champion Liselotte Neumann. He is best known for one of the eight golf books he has authored, The X Factor Swing: And Other Secrets to Power and Distance, a tome about the generation of power. While McLean has a reputation for creating distance in his students' swings, his schools are as comprehensive and based on fundamentals as anyone's. McLean's main operation is at the posh Doral Resort in Miami. New schools have just opened at the Doral's sister properties, Grand Traverse in Traverse City, Michigan, and PGA West and the La Quinta Golf Scool in Palm Springs, California. (The schools work with Doral and the other resorts to provide complete golf packages.) McLean also operates several smaller satellite academies.

McLean's schools offer a wide range of programs, from an intensive one-day experience through a six-day immersion. With the exception of the single-day program, all of McLean's schedules emphasize on-course play. "It's total game teaching, all aspects of the game, including long, short, mental and management skills," says McLean. "We give you exercises to do at home and feature a lot of on-course instruction, like recovery shots."

McLean has an uncanny ability to analyze a student's swing quickly and correctly, a trait he passes on to his top-notch staff. Referring to his book The Eight-Step Swing, he says, "The eight steps is our way of analyzing the swing: what is the club doing and what is the body doing. We try to teach a sequence, from the very first move, so that we're not just fixing an effect of your swing."

McLean's facility has ample room for all aspects of the game, covered ranges for bad weather, and the signature Superstation, a structure resembling a four-bay garage, where video and computer equipment are used to analyze students' swings. While the video-editing software is not quite as advanced as that of Nicklaus Flick's, it has some unique features, like the ability to print stills, as well as video, for quick portable reference when practicing. A sophisticated computer measures club-head speed, point of impact on the club face, and launch angle. The school maintains an impressive library of swings (taped each year of the competitors in the Doral Ryder Open) to compare with students'.

The schools feature the extremely low ratio of three students per instructor, and in signature schools hosted by McLean himself, it drops to 2:1. The three-day option is the most popular and comprehensive of the regularly scheduled itineraries, and is offered every weekend of the year at Doral (the four-day school consists of half-days so guests can enjoy the resort or play golf on their own, and has fewer hours of instruction than the three-day). There is also a two-day short game school and a six-day Player's School, which includes four rounds with instruction, but is available only to men with a handicap of 10 or less and women rated at 15 or less. There are women-only schools, junior schools, and schools hosted by golf legends Jackie Burke and Calvin Peete. Finally, for those wanting to unlock McLean's "X-Factor Swing," he offers two-day Power Schools, not recommended for players with handicaps north of 20.

No name is more synonymous with golf instruction than David Leadbetter's. The first to rise to prominence as a swing guru to the pros, Leadbetter is best known for his long working relationship with multiple-major winner Nick Faldo, although the two have now parted ways. He also instructs Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Nick Price. True to form, when I visited Leadbetter at his home academy at Lake Nona, near Orlando, Florida, he was working with tour player Mike Hulbert.

Years ago, Leadbetter established a reputation as someone low handicappers went to see to perfect their games. But with the opening of more and more schools, many resort-based, Leadbetter's methods have become accessible, and he is just as happy teaching hackers and families. "There's no one swing that does it," he says. "I give the teachers the freedom to teach everyone differently, and we use a lot of drills so people can get 'it' before they leave. I've been labeled a mechanical teacher because of my work with Faldo, but the opposite is true. If the person is mechanically oriented like Faldo, that's the approach we take. But I've had great success with all types of players. Part of my philosophy is to teach people enough about their own swings so that they continue to improve after they leave. It's a matter of giving people an understanding of their tendencies and a blueprint for improvement. It's got to become instinctive, second nature, when you leave the practice tee for the course. We give you a feel for what you should be doing, because you just can't be thinking about 10 swing mechanics out on the golf course."

Indeed, Leadbetter's instructors were the most easygoing I encountered. They focused on simple solutions rather than rebuilding, and used drills selected to be of value when things go bad, which after golf lessons, they inevitably do. In the same vein, the courses are largely unstructured, allowing you to decide how your time should be spent. No bell signals the end of full swing and start of short game instruction. "I'm not a big fan of housing two hundred people and a bunch of teachers. I just don't see how you can learn much in that kind of atmosphere. It's individualized here."

Leadbetter is moving his operation from Lake Nona to a state-of-the-art facility at Champion's Gate, a nearby residential and resort community that will feature a new Greg Norman-designed golf course and two hotels. The new school will include a short-game area larger than the entire Lake Nona practice area and new video equipment (the one department in which his current setup is lacking). The facility will have a separate area for professional players, but is aimed squarely at the weekend golfer.

With more than a dozen locations as far-flung as Bangkok, Leadbetter may be the biggest player in the high-end golf school game, but attendees, receiving personalized instruction, would never know it. Like McLean, Leadbetter uses only full-time instructors, trained in-house, and maintains a 3:1 or lower ratio.


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