Hally Leadbetter's revised lesson plan takes shape
SEBRING, Fla. – The name Leadbetter carries heavy expectations in golf. Hally Leadbetter, 21, finds it particularly amusing and awkward when strangers congratulate her on being the daughter of renowned instructor David Leadbetter.
“Like I won him in a raffle or something,” Hally said.
The truth is, Hally busied herself with the other Leadbetter family pastime – horseback riding – in her younger years. When she finally decided that she’d like to play on a sports team and took up golf, she ran as far as possible from the advice of dad and mom, a two-time USGA champion and former tour player.
Today a grown-up Hally proudly relies on the help of mom and dad, referencing them often while understanding that all the resources in the world mean nothing without hard work.
“Somebody once told me to ‘take advantages of your advantages,’ ” said Leadbetter, winner of the 2013 Women's Southern Amateur.
Like most things in life, the name of that game is balance.
On a frigid Wednesday in Sebring, Leadbetter recovered from an early triple bogey to shoot 75 at the Harder Hall Women's Invitational. Kelly Leadbetter (nee Fuiks), played in the Harder Hall in the 1970s and warmed up for a mini-tour event there in the ’80s by hitting pine cones. (Kelly won that pro event.)
Hally, the middle child and only daughter in the Leadbetter fivesome, always had a set of golf clubs at her disposal but at a young age found the game to be boring. In middle school, she decided to give golf a try and shot 136 for her first 18 holes. In the eighth grade, she shot 55 for nine holes to clinch the fifth spot on the team at Orlando's Lake Highland Prep and play in the state championship. She’d never felt more nervous.
Eventually, with Hally’s blessing, David gave away Buddy, her American quarterhorse, and moved the family from Orlando to Bradenton in 2008 so that Hally, a 10th-grader, could attend IMG’s David Leadbetter Golf Academy. (While a good move for Hally’s game, the family still misses the spacious home at Lake Nona that they later sold to Annika Sorenstam.)
“I was pretty far behind the girls I was playing against,” said Hally, who still wasn’t being coached by her father.
It wasn’t until she graduated from high school and played for Arkansas that dad became her coach. After playing in seven of 12 events as a Razorbacks freshman, Leadbetter redshirted for her sophomore year. Then last summer she decided that Division II Rollins College hit closer to home – literally – and transferred to the small liberal-arts school in Winter Park, an Orlando suburb.
Now only a short drive down Interstate 4 from a lesson from her dad, Leadbetter keeps their sessions to twice a month. Anything more and she feels too dependent.
As hard as she tries to keep the coach/parent relationship separate, golf inevitably seeps in.
“What do normal families talk about at dinner?” Leadbetter recently asked a friend.
With so much world-class information at her fingertips – trainers, nutritionists, instructors, swing aids – it’s awfully easy for her to experience information overload. Not to mention the professional players with whom she has grown close over the years. Michelle Wie is a good friend, and just last week Hally played a round with Suzann Pettersen at Grand Cypress, though Pettersen’s advice centered mostly around men.
Rollins coach Julie Garner wants Leadbetter to simplify and streamline this spring. There are times when Garner can see the wheels turning too much on the golf course. Leadbetter slows down and gets too deliberate.
“She’s so bright and she’s so talented,” Garner said, “and has all of this information at her disposal. Sometimes that can kind of scramble the message a little bit.”
Leadbetter wasted no time in making Rollins feel like home. At 5 a.m. on Mondays, she joins a Tars baseball player on the campus radio waves for a two-hour show on pop culture. In one semester at Rollins, Leadbetter said she has pulled more all-nighters than two years at Arkansas. Smaller classes mean more accountability.
Leadbetter’s goals for this semester are nothing short of Division II Player of the Year and NCAA team and individual titles. That’s notably different from Arkansas, where there was no guarantee of even making the starting lineup.
For those who think that Leadbetter's parents might be the helicopter types, Garner said that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, David didn’t even make it to a tournament last fall, though he recently asked for a copy of the spring schedule. Kelly made it to several events.
Though Leadbetter is a lefty with every shot in the book, her short game has impressed Garner the most.
“Every time she steps up to chip, I think she’s going to make it,” Garner said. “When her putting is on, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
That's enough to make any parent proud.