David Leadbetter has questioned the hunger of the world’s best male players due to the amount of money in golf and the intense scrutiny that has followed Tiger Woods throughout his career.
Woods’ comeback at the 18-man Hero World Challenge two weeks ago following a fourth back surgery and ten months out was the second most streamed event on Golf Channel in 2017 – behind The Open – with the media documenting his every move.
NBC Sports’ coverage of the #HeroWorldChallenge (Thursday-Sunday) saw 22.4M total minutes streamed (+201% year-over-year); 2nd only to The Open among golf events streaming across NBC Sports platforms in 2017.— Golf Channel PR (@GolfChannelPR) December 4, 2017
Leadbetter admitted that what Woods did in his prime was ‘superhuman’ and that we are unlikely to see a player dominate for a period of time like he did again – in part due to Woods’ ability and also the depth of talent now in world golf.
But he also thinks players are wary of pushing themselves to that next level if it means putting themselves in that intense media spotlight that has followed Woods.
Asked whether he was concerned that golf seems to be unable to move on from Woods – referencing the Golf Channel viewing statistics – despite this new generation of incredibly gifted young players, Leadbetter told bunkered.co.uk: “Concerned… I wouldn’t go as far as to say that but there’s so much money in the game now.
“And it’s so much more demanding even from when Tiger came on the scene. Players are on TV every second, there's social media now, every moment is dissected and the pressure on them is immense. Sometimes you probably think, ‘Do I need all this?’
“They seem to be playing less and trying to get away of the public eye. It’s almost as if there’s maybe a conscious reluctance to break away from the pack like Tiger did. There’s no dominant player now.”
Back in January, in a candid interview with the Irish Times, Rory McIlroy said he ‘couldn’t live like Tiger Woods’ and said he’d happily sacrifice eclipsing the American’s major record if it meant living a relatively normal life.
“If someone was to say, ‘You can have 14 majors and 70 wins but have to deal with (what Tiger deals with), or nine majors and 40 wins and stay somewhat the same as you are,’ I’d take the second option all day,” McIlroy said.
For Leadbetter, who continues to coach the likes of Ernie Els, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Michelle Wie and Danielle Kang, the four-time major winner’s comments concur with what he believes.
“Well there you go,” he continued. “How badly do they want it? You’ve got to remember, Tiger had golf drilled into him by his father from the age of three – told that he was going to be the greatest. I doubt that Rory’s parents had the same mindset. They just had a very talented kid.
“These players becoming multi-millionaires at very young ages – they’d be able to not hit another golf ball in their lives if they didn’t want to. They’ve done it, they’ve made it financially, and now it’s about what’s inside of them and how hard they want to work.
“Playing comes with a price and it’s all about how you handle it. These players are at the age now where they’re getting married, having families, and it’s like, well, how much do I want to give 110% of myself and sacrifice everything else?
"That’s what Tiger did. He had the talent but he sacrificed an awful lot of his life too."
In some ways, Leadbetter believes that Woods' life choices away from golf has been a product of everything he surrendered in his attempt to become the greatest golfer of all time.
"He was in a bubble since he was on TV aged three and he’s never been out of it. You can understand some of the things that he’s gone through in his life because he hasn’t lived a normal life.
"I wouldn’t say it’s an excuse for some of Tiger’s lifestyle choices but you can understand it – him wanting to do things that he wasn’t able to do when he was younger."