Golf: Faldo's farewell to guru's guru

Former world No 1 cites lack of communication as reason for split from coach who guided him to six majors

VISITING THE Faldo Golf Institute at the Marriott Grande Vista hotel in Orlando in March, it was hard to believe Nick Faldo was across the city at Lake Nona after missing the cut at the Bay Hill Invitational. As you would expect from something named after the six-times major champion, here was a place where a golfer could really get to grips with practising the game. No details were overlooked.

A pitching area allows you to play to flags at different yardages to learn distance control but without having to move your stance. On the 27-hole putting course, there are holes specifically designed to teach lag-putting. On the nine-hole learning course, a plaque on each tee describes what should be accomplished on the hole.

"We hope that everyone who comes here," explained Jim Richerson, the general manager of the Faldo Institute, "will understand and appreciate and share Nick's love of the game and his drive."

It was Faldo's drive and his love of winning the game's "little tin cups" that drove him to form a formidable alliance with David Leadbetter in 1985. Now, Faldo has sought to rekindle his career with the help of Chip Koehlke, the head professional at his own Institute.

Faldo went to spend an hour there, stayed for four days and also worked with Koehlke at the Lancome Trophy last week in Paris where a last-round 65 gave the 41-year-old his best finish of the season, sixth place.

Yesterday, preparing for today's German Masters where he will continue trying to gather enough Ryder Cup points to play for a 12th time next September, Faldo said a lack of communication was the reason for his split from the man who turned a successful European golfer into the greatest player on the world stage in the late '80s and early '90s.

"Things have not been working out with David even though I've been busting my buns for a few months," Faldo said. "David wasn't at the USPGA in Seattle, much to my surprise, and I haven't spoken to him for weeks. He's been off doing his own thing."

Such a situation would have been unthinkable when the only thing on Faldo's mind was his constant "fine-tuning with Lead". Even though Faldo lives at the complex where Leadbetter has had his golf academy for the past 10 years, the British-born teacher who grew up in Zimbabwe only received word of his star pupil's departure in a letter he picked up after returning home from a trip to the Far East at the weekend.

"It wasn't very classy," said Leadbetter, whose father died during the summer. "You put a lot of time and effort with someone like Nick and it is a bit upsetting to get a cursory note to finish it all. We had a good relationship off the field as far as these things go. He hasn't always endeared himself to me from a personal standpoint but he has been a great pupil. I still have the utmost respect for him."

Leadbetter spent most of 1985 and '86 rebuilding Faldo's elegant swing, but one that was suspect under pressure. In its place, they grooved an action which saw off all challengers in winning three Opens and three US Masters titles. At Muirfield in '87, Faldo parred every hole in the final round, while at Augusta 11 years later, he came from six behind to beat Greg Norman by five.

"He has been good for me and I was good for him," Leadbetter said. Leadbetter, who was already working with Nick Price - whose record of three majors is bettered only by Faldo in the last decade - when his fame grew alongside that of Faldo's. Plenty of other players have since sought out the tall man in the Panama hat on the practice ground.

Some found that the attention they received in comparison with his star client was minimal, others that the technical methods used on Faldo were not right for them. Leadbetter denies that he has just one method of teaching. "I am technical with some people, not with others," he said.

Leadbetter, in demand for books, videos and magazine articles, became a valuable commodity to the International Management Group, alongside Faldo. Both have now left, Faldo setting up on his own with his manager of 20 years, John Simpson. One of their first projects was to set up the Golf Institute. "That's why, in the last year, you didn't hear my name associated with his when he spoke," Leadbetter said.

The guru's guru has spent this season, Faldo's worst for over a decade, preaching patience. The long game was close to its best if the putting could be sorted out. Observation suggested the former was not as good and the latter not as bad as either thought.

But what was obvious was that the teacher could no longer spark his pupil into action. The relationship was stale. "Sometimes you need a [new] outlook," Leadbetter admitted. Enter Koehlke, an American in his mid-thirties. "I had to do something," Faldo said. "Chip is a disciple of my methods, has read my books and teaches my methods. He's read Hogan, the lot. It was silly that I should be going elsewhere when I had my own tried-and- tested system all set up for me.

"Chip showed a lot of bottle because he told me that in some cases I would have to do just the opposite of what I've done for years if I wanted to improve. He's thrown in his two-pennyworth and me mine. Slowly, he's unravelled the knots and the last round of the Lancome was good feedback."

Leadbetter said the split was "a bit of a shock". But he added: "I wish him well for the future. At least our relationship lasted longer than either of Nick's two marriages."

DAVID LEADBETTER: HIS PUPILS AND RIVALS

THE CLIENTS

Once a struggling tour player himself, Leadbetter first started to help the South African Denis Watson and then took on Nick Price after the Zimbabwean lost the 1982 Open to Tom Watson at Troon. In contrast to Faldo, who would spend hours with Leadbetter, Price said 10 minutes with the teacher gave him enough to work on for three months. Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros have all worked with Leadbetter - the Spaniard doing so in 1991, his best season to date since he last won a major in 1988.

It was to Lake Nona, the Leadbetter headquarters, that Korean Se Ri Pak, the US Women's Open champion, went when she first arrived in America, while Justin Rose spent a week there earlier this year. Hackers can get the same treatment for pounds 3,000 for a weekend's tuition.

THE RIVALS

Butch Harmon, one of four golfing sons of the former Masters champion Claude Harmon, is the next most visible coach after Leadbetter. Harmon revived Greg Norman's career in the early 1990s, helping the Australian win the Open at Sandwich in 1993, but Norman left around the time Tiger Woods, who sought Harmon's advice as an amateur, turned pro. While Tiger is on the course, Harmon can often be found on Sky's American golf coverage.

Bill Ferguson was the club pro who taught Colin Montgomerie the game and only came out on tour to fine-tune the Scot's action. Before long, others such as Ian Woosnam and Paul Broadhurst found the Yorkshireman's help valuable.

Montgomerie split from Ferguson, without giving reasons at the time but hoping to improve his world ranking at the end of 1996, and spent the following season with Denis Pugh, a former Leadbetter aide who seems to specialise in coaching a number of Australians, New Zealanders, Germans and Danes. But last month, suffering the worst slump of his career, Montgomerie returned to Ferguson.

Lindrick's Peter Cowen is now the guru of choice for Andrew Chandler's management stable, which includes Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Stuart Cage. Less seen these days, Bob Torrance was the man behind son the rise of his son Sam.

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