America's Fifty Greatest Teachers
55 / LAKE NONA, Fla. / $10,000 PER day / 345 votes
Students: Ernie Els, Michelle Wie, Charles Howell III, Darren Clarke, Trevor Immelman, Nick Price, Ian Poulter
Like Many top instructors, David Leadbetter turned to teaching the day he realized he probably wasn't going to make it as a tour pro.
"It was a struggle on tour," says Leadbetter, who turned pro when he was 17 and played on the European and South African tours. "I used to stay in these cheapy hotels. Well, I used to say I came home the day the hotel stole my towels."
Although learning from many of the top instructors of the day such as Phil Ritson, John Jacobs, Dr. Gary Wiren and Jim Flick helped Leadbetter grow into the role of a swing guru, it was a fortunate meeting in 1984 that propelled his career. That year, two of Leadbetter's longtime friends, tour pros Denis Watson and Nick Price, introduced him to Nick Faldo at the Million Dollar Challenge in South Africa. Faldo asked Leadbetter to take a look at his swing and offer an opinion.
"He had a spinny ball flight with no penetration," Leadbetter recalls. "It was a very old-style 1970s swing with a high-hands finish and a lot of leg slide. His main goal was to win an Open, and he knew his swing needed to be rebuilt to accomplish what he wanted to do."
Not long after that meeting, the two teamed up full-time and quickly set the mold for what has become a staple in professional golf: the teacher-player relationship. With Leadbetter's help, Faldo won six majors (three Masters, three British Opens) before the two parted in 1998.
Leadbetter says the media attention on Faldo—a favorite of the British tabloids—also gave him worldwide publicity during their 14-year relationship. It was especially intense during the first few years, when Faldo was struggling with his new swing. He went three years without a professional victory, but the payoff for teacher and student came when Faldo ground out 18 straight pars in the final round to win the 1987 British Open at Muirfield.
"It was a spotlight job. All eyes were on Faldo back then," Leadbetter recalls. "But our relationship really helped our business. Before that, the mind-set was that the top players really didn't take lessons. They just practiced and played. But when Nick rebuilt his swing with my help, it changed the thought process of players. After that, everyone began teaming up with teachers and working on their games constantly. His approach became the model."