School Days….Professionals in Training
Book Review – Driven
Senior Staff Writer: Jeff Skinner
In Driven Kevin Cook delves into the ever evolving world of junior golf. The David Leadbetter Golf Academy is one of a growing number of youth camps whose mission it is to create the next great, dominant golfer. Cooks’ subtitle is “Teen Phenoms, Mad Parents, Swing Science and the Future of Golf, A Year at the David Leadbetter Academy”. You get a close up view of the pressure filled life of many of the top junior golfers in the world. This academy is really a living laboratory. These kids are given the best equipment, facilities, nutrition and instructors. They spend time in classes for academics but their real focus is on golf. The mission here is to get better at golf. The kids are looking for two things…college scholarships and professional golf. The Academy is their means to that end. That end being a professional golfer… the next Tiger Woods.
Kevin Cook is a former Editor in Chief of Golf Magazine, has been a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, and an executive editor of Travel & Leisure Golf Magazine. Cook has won the USGA’s Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for his 2007 book Tommy’s Honor. With a professional pedigree like that you expect something special in this book. You get it. Cook spent a year at the academy giving him great insight into the kids, the parents, the instructors, and the pros that still seek Leadbetter’s teaching and knowledge.
The kids are from all over the globe and most of them are truly motivated to be the best. Unfortunately many things can get in the way. Cook focuses on the issues that confront the students, anything from puberty to their overbearing parents can cause the kids to struggle. This academy can cost over one hundred thousand dollars per year. That can bring plenty of pressure on a teenager to perform. Leadbetter’s instructors do what they can to get the most from their students but sometimes the kids worst enemies are their parents.
In the book, Cook gives you an intimate look at one of Leadbetter’s principal students, Michele Wie and the dynamic between her and her parents. It is apparent that while Leadbetter’s advice is sought by Michele’s parents, it was rarely adhered to. Michele Wie and her struggles were an intriguing section of Driven
The Leadbetter Academy and its students are not the only point of interest in Driven. David Leadbetter has coached or is coaching many prominent golfers. Leadbetter is credited by Nick Faldo with rebuilding his swing. Faldo then went on to win six majors. Nick Price was one of Leadbetters’ first major players. Leadbetter had his work cut out for him. It seems the two Nicks’ did not get along at all and Leadbetter would have to try and keep them apart so Faldo would not get jealous. Faldo may have been grateful to Leadbetter early on, but he showed unusual insensitivity by leaving Leadbetter and starting his own golf school and informing Leadbetter of it in a “Dear John Letter”.
This insider information and many more stories and anecdotes made Driven a great read for any golf fan. The Nicks, Sean O’Hair, Trevor Immelman, Ernie Els, Sean O’Hair, Paula Creamer Michele Wie and Lorena Ochoa are some of the pros that flow in and out of Leadbetters’ life, always leaving a good story.
The students in the academy offer us many interesting and genuine storylines. Peter Uihlein is the patient, mature son of the Titlest CEO. Carly Booth is the Scottish phenom who disagrees with her coaches. Annie Park is the Korean star. Charlie Winegardner refuses to change his baseball grip. Mu Hu is China’s version of Tiger Woods. The daughters of tennis great Ivan Lendl run him raged. Michael Wade is the humble, adopted son of a Pastor.
Cook follows each of these stories, and more, giving us a true, unbiased glimpse into the personal lives of these kids, their families and Leadbetters’ connection with them. The drama is not limited to the students. Cook gives us plenty of adult intrigue with details of Leadbetter’s trouble with his bickering professionals, employees that betray him, pros that desert him and of course the ongoing Wie soap opera.
Driven is an interesting book that any golf fan will certainly enjoy. Kevin Cooks’ skill as a writer is obvious and his years in the world of golf have given him an expertise and an awareness that few writers have.
Teen Phenoms, Mad Parents, Swing Science and the Future of Golf
A Year at the David Leadbetter Academy
by Kevin Cook
Gotham Books 2008