CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND | For the last 30 years, no one has been casting a more knowledgeable – and independent – eye over the women golfers and their scene than David Leadbetter.
The English-born coach, who was at Carnoustie for the Ricoh
Women’s British Open, works with such high fliers as Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen but makes no secret of the fact that he is worried at what is happening – or isn’t happening – in the women’s game at large.
“What’s needed,” he suggests, “is a full-frontal attack to make it all that it should be. At the moment, the different Tours are too concerned with trying to protect their own territory instead of looking at what’s best for the game overall.”
He believes the Tours should compete against each other on a regular basis. This would take in six or seven events along the lines of the men’s World Golf Championships, with the tournaments in question dotted evenly across the golfing continents.
“One obvious side effect,” he suggests, would be that the world rankings would have more clout and credibility.”
On a slightly different tack, he would like to see the women making more use of their strengths as individuals. Since everyone likes playing with them in a pro-am context, he says it would make sense were they to hold more events along the lines of the Dunhill Links championship or the AT&T, with amateurs on hand for rather more than merely the pro-am day.
He also thinks that the women could devote more time to giving clinics as, indeed, they did in the early days of the LPGA. At a stage when the pioneers were as one in trying to get their Tour off the ground, a couple of the bigger names would visit a venue in advance of a tournament in a bid to drum up interest by getting to know the members. Today, as Leadbetter says, is no time to be sitting back.
The man who has had more impact on the teaching of the game than most others, knows as well as anyone that many of the top women are great characters. Yet, he doubts whether that is getting through to the public.
“Are the Tours,” he asks, “doing enough to help their overseas
players to get better known?” In which connection, he cites Birdie Kim. In her case, it took nothing more than the adoption of the Christian name “Birdie” – this was Leadbetter’s idea – for the player to start making news.
He believes that the American professionals could similarly do more to market themselves better, while he also cites the dearth of new girls bursting on to their scene.
“Unlike in Asia, the American don’t have a lot of good young players coming through. Just look at this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup side. It’s much the same as it was two years ago.” (As things stand, Stacy Lewis and Vicky Hurst are the only new arrivals in the top 12 since 2009 whereas the Europeans have five in Melissa Reid, Cristel Boeljon, Virginie Lagoutte-Clement, Caroline Hedwall, and Florentyna Parker.)
Having voiced his concerns about the upper echelons of the game, Leadbetter turned his attention to that side of girls’ golf which is currently being overlooked altogether as people think of golf more as a career than anything else. He wants to see parents who encourage their sons to play golf doing the same with their daughters – and making it plain that the sport is not all about getting to No. 1 in the world.
“There are,” he says, “plenty of other things to aim for other than a career at the highest level. A girl can try for her Tour card and, at a time when she is footloose and fancy free, she can get to see the world.”
As indeed, applied with his own wife, Kelly. She played in America and Europe for several years, with the highlight of her career a win in the Hennessy tournament in France.
Nor, as Leadbetter says, do they even need to turn professional to get plenty out of the game. Here, he points to his daughter, Halley. For a long time, Halley was only interested in ponies. Then, to her parents’ surprise, she took it upon herself to get into golf and has recently won herself a golf scholarship to the University of Arkansas.
“Playing golf is a great way of getting a college education and enjoying the game’s social side,” Leadbetter says. “And if, after university, a girl wants to go into business, she’s still going to be quids in.
“If you want to get on in the business world, it doesn’t do you any harm to be able to hit a golf ball.”