Leadbetter still the leader in the clubhouse

GOLF: Nick Faldo is back in Europe for the PGA Championship. Richard Edmondson met the great man's mentor
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The Independent Online
For someone who has never stood still, even when he was the world No 1, Nick Faldo has developed an unlikely training schedule. He is running on the spot.

Faldo, who sets out on his first European event of the season, the PGA, at Wentworth tomorrow, is one of golf's great dabblers. Even at his peak, he experimented with weights in an attempt to promote muscles like Popeye and increased length off the tee. The results suggested there was a spinach blight that year.

For 1995 there is a different formula. Faldo is now in leotard circles as he strives to get back to the top. "He's been on a strict fitness regimen, getting himself very aerobically fit," David Leadbetter, Faldo's tutor, said yesterday. "He's been riding a bicycle, on a treadmill and doing stretches with the same specialist that tunes [Pete] Sampras and [Jim] Courier. If you're physically fit it gives you a mental edge."

By this logic, Leadbetter considers Faldo already streets ahead of Colin Montgomerie, who will be a rival both this week and in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills, New York, next month. The teacher, it seems, thinks the Scot pays too much attention to his tuck box. This impression came after one of last year's majors, when Monty came off course with the sodden clothing and energy level of a man who had just swum his way out of Alcatraz.

"He looked absolutely worn out after the US Open," Leadbetter said. "For Colin to get to the top he's got to get himself a little fitter. Who knows what fatigue can do in the last three holes of a tournament? Fitness is a big part of this game and when you're playing with that much pressure and tension the fitter you are the more chance you've got."

There is certainly no tiring in the success story of David Leadbetter. Born in Worthing, Sussex, he moved to Rhodesia aged 11 (his tones betray the immigration). A modest player on the European and South African tours, he gradually discovered his forte was preaching rather than playing golf.

This led to a symbiotic relationship with Faldo. The golfer believes he could never have been the player he is without Leadbetter, while the teacher's profile was hardly damaged by improving the world No 1. Both are lauded by club professionals for getting businessmen off the Chesterfields and into the pro shop for lessons.

Last year three of the four majors went to other students of Leadbetter in Nick Price (two) and Ernie Els, and his tall, skinny figure has also been seen by the side of David Frost, Ian Baker-Finch and Bernhard Langer on the practice ground.

Critics argue that the Leadbetter method is too eccentric, but the man himself cannot now go wrong. With such a strong professional client list there are many duffers who require his services and, such is the mental fragility of golf, they probably improve just for the thought of his arrival.

There will soon be another Leadbetter academy, in Portugal, the 12th of its kind in the world. The personal services of the great man himself come in an exercise called a "Retreat", a two-day course for groups of six. Each contribute $3,500 (pounds 2,300).

Home for Leadbetter is Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, where he has lived long enough to pick up the irksome Americanism of using the prefix golf as if everyone does not know what sport we are taking about. There is the golf course, the golf ball, the golf shot.

Within sugar-borrowing distance these days is the man who has done most to make Leadbetter, the man whom he talks about almost as if he is a nephew. "Nick's had a good year so far in America [winning once and finishing fourth in the recent Buick Classic] and he's feeling good about his game," Leadbetter said. "He's got the respect of players over there now and I think he's feeling at ease with himself, enjoying himself.

"Nick believes he can improve for the next five years. There is no physical reason why he shouldn't go on. It will be down to nerve, desire and his will to win. He sets himself very high standards and it's a dream of his to win a Grand Slam, but I'm not sure that's achievable."

For Faldo perhaps not, but for the man who once trained to be an accountant the figures are beginning to suggest he will one day coach all four winners of the majors.

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