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Tennis great Ivan Lendl just another golf-obsessed dad

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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Ivan LendlIt's an itinerary fit for a world-class athlete in his prime. San Diego one weekend, New York the next, Boise, Idaho, soon after, stops in Europe on the horizon. Each new city and time zone bring a new tournament and challenge.

This is a peek at Ivan Lendl's summer schedule. A small peek. The Hall-of-Fame tennis legend that has been happily retired for 11 years runs through airports to catch flights, not wanting to miss any part of the next adventure.

The ground-strokes dominator, who can count the number of times he's picked up a racket in the last decade on two hands, finds himself waking in luxury hotel rooms, wondering what zip code he's in. If it's Saturday, it must be Lake Tahoe.

Ivan Lendl is essentially on tour all over again. Only now, the paychecks he's competing for run low four and five figures rather than gaudy sixes and sevens. Only now, the biggest thrills come in lugging the equipment and giving advice. Only now, Lendl doesn't hesitate in declaring it the time of his life.

"It's a dream life really," Lendl said, speaking on his cell phone as he heads for another airport.

It's a golf life. A dimpled white ball has replaced the fuzzy yellow one at the center of Lendl's world and its hold is only growing stronger, passing on to a new generation. Lendl is not just a golf-obsessed nut trying to grab on to the last remnants of his athletic prime by competing in Celebrity Players Tour events and trying to qualify for the U.S. Open in his new sport every year. He's a golf-obsessed schemer with a family plan.

Four of Lendl's five daughters play golf at a highly competitive junior level. The oldest, 15-year-old Marika, has played in the U.S. Girls Junior three straight years, advanced as far as the round of 16. Thirteen-year-old Isabelle Lendl's been in two U.S. Girls Juniors, the first as the fifth-youngest golfer in the entire field. The Girls Junior is the United States Golf Association championship where Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer first started building their names a few years ago, and while the Lendl girls are not at that level, it isn't hard to see the dream plan.

Marika is already talking like a future champion, already talking like a Lendl.

"I love the strategy of golf," she said. "And I love to win."

She's not alone on that in this household. Twelve-year-old Daniela, whom some of the coaches the Lendls use tout as the most naturally talented golfer in the family, is itching to play in national junior events of her own. Seven-year-old Nikola is just starting, but she's already talking of one day beating dad.

Ivan Lendl"We talk about golf all the time as a family," Isabelle says. "Every day."

To say golf has taken over the Lendls' life is like saying things got a little out of hand at a NBA game in Auburn Hills, Mich., last year. In order for Marika and Isabelle to attend the vaunted David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Brad enton, Fla., the entire family moved.

While Lendl's mother, Olga Lendlova, a tennis star herself in Czechoslovakia, pushed him to practice and practice some more, Lendl could afford to be a more laid-back sports parent. His family is financially set for life, and he's not trying to escape a communist regime. But sometimes genes speak louder.

"He'll tell us what we're doing wrong," Marika said, laughing. "Whether we want to hear it right then or not."

To think it all started with Lendl worried his well-off kids might just veg out in front of a TV. Or worse.

Father Fear

Ivan Lendl lingers in a mall for a moment, stopped cold by an everyday scene. It doesn't matter that Lendl won eight Grand Slams, dominated tennis like few legends before or since him ever have, at this instant. All his tournament prize money and endorsement earnings (a reported $100 million combined) cannot help him now either.

No, at this moment, Lendl is just another dad, prone to worrying about his little girls.

A few things are universal, cutting through both celebrity and wealth. Fatherhood is definitely one of them. And only a father can truly understand how seeing a bunch of girls, teen-aged and younger, just hanging around a mall can send shivers of real fear shooting down your spine.

"I had to go to the mall the other day and there were all these girls - girls the age of my daughters - just there, not really doing anything," Lendl sighs, painting the picture. "They were just there. That's scary. At a mall all day ... you never know what could happen.

"I'm just glad my daughters have golf. I don't need to wonder where they are. I know where they are, at the golf course, working on their game."

Ivan Lendl - Hall of Fame tennis icon and multi-millionaire businessman - is just another golf dad arranging his schedule around his kids' tee times, caddying for them whenever he can. It's a transformation that has even surprised him a little. Lendl sounds almost embarrassed when he admits he hasn't been spending as much time on the practice range working on his own golf game as he should.

"With the girls more involved in sports, there's not as much time for me to do my own thing," said the 46-year-old Lendl, who played almost 300 rounds a year in the first few years of retirement. "I put the work in when I can."

This is the same guy whose relentless practice habits made his pro tennis peers feel like they were competing against a tireless robot? This is the same guy whose devotion to extra court time inspired Vijay Singh, the PGA Tour's biggest workaholic?

Yes, and yes.

Well, at least the same guy turned into a dad.

In an age when star athletes seem to have more trouble than ever walking away from the adoring crowds, the money and the irreplaceable competitive rush (see Michael Jordan, Rickey Henderson and any boxer), Lendl's made a remarkable transition. He swiftly dove into his own golf game and then turned outward and became even more involved with his daughters' games. If you think about it, Lendl is actually doing what Jordan always said he wanted to do before he tried another sport or hit the gaming tables: spending more time with his family.

Sure, the time carries a certain competitive edge. What'd you expect? This isn't the Robinsons or the Smiths. It's the Lendls.

In a few moments, the tennis great will hang up the phone and hustle for another flight. He has a really important sporting event to catch. He has new worries, ones he can embrace.

"You'd like to see them improving even quicker," Lendl said. "But I know in sports, things take time. Still you'd like ..."

Ivan Lendl cannot help himself. He's a golf dad.

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • lendl

    krishnarajan laksha wrote on: Mar 26, 2010

    i am the greatest all fan of the living legend ivan lendl

    Reply

  • Ivan e-mail

    Don wrote on: Sep 27, 2008

    If anyone knows how to contact Ivan or post a message for him to see, my e-mail is donn292@aol.com

    Reply

      • RE: Ivan e-mail

        thea bonnici wrote on: Jul 5, 2011

        I live in Cape Town..SouthAfrica..beautiful city..used ti watch you all thetime...loved your controlled style,prayed you would win Wimbledon...find the new players not the same..the grunting, screaming, and all the animal noises has taken the charm,and excitement out of the game...continue to gave a goodlife with yiour family.

        Reply

      • RE: Ivan e-mail

        esmaa wrote on: Jul 17, 2009

        Hello,
        I am also a very very great fan of this(unrecognised) legendary tennisplayer.
        So if any one can help us contact Ivan to let him know, i would thank you a thousand times!!

        Reply

      • RE: Ivan e-mail

        krishnarajan.knn wrote on: Mar 26, 2009

        i am greatest fan of ivam lendl. he is best of all time. i need is email id, pls

        Reply

  • meeting Ivan

    Don wrote on: Sep 27, 2008

    Recently I sat next to Ivan on a flight from Hartford to Tampa. As a tennis player myself, I was thrilled, but did not deprive him of rest and relaxation during the flight. It was only after we had landed that I asked for an autograph. He was very kind and friendly. My only regret was not getting an e-mail address from him or a web site to ask him the questions that I wanted to during the flight. Thank you Ivan for taking time to talk. I hope all is well with you and your family.

    Reply

  • True Lendl Fan

    MURALI wrote on: Jun 5, 2008

    Hi Lendl
    how r u ? i am one of your true fan of you from India. I can remember those child hood days when you played massive tennis and simply dominated Tennis. Can i get your email id so that i like to share my thoughts with you always till my death
    your loving and true fan
    Murali
    Chennai, India

    Reply

  • Where is his wife and their mother

    Marisa wrote on: Oct 10, 2005

    How disappointing you did not mention Ivan Lendl's wife - you mentioned his mother but not the girls mother - doesn't she support their game or maybe she is against it and that is why you didn't interview her.....when are you guys going to learn that when it is a "family" - then it includes, Mom, Dad and kids - even if they are not as famous as the person you are doing the article about!

    Reply

      • RE: Where is his wife and their mother

        jim wrote on: Jan 24, 2012

        she is busy riding horses and trying to spend all of his money so she can move on to the next victim.

        Reply

      • RE: Where is his wife and their mother

        jana wellington wrote on: Mar 18, 2007

        Hello,
        just now I came across this articale and would like to know the answer to as well. Fascinating idividual. thank you. jana

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Where is his wife and their mother

            G lennox wrote on: Nov 30, 2007

            Has it ever occured to you both that Mrs. Lendl doesn't want to to be interviewed and prefers to remain just the mother of 5 beautiful, healthy and genuinely nice kids. She is supportive of her kids but has no desire for notority.

            Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: Where is his wife and their mother

                Blip wrote on: May 2, 2008

                Samantha Lendl - as well as being a trained Montessori teacher (the Lendls have recently started their own Montessori school in Fla!) - is a keen rider and successful owner of eventing horses and their daughter Caroline rides competitively at the top levels for her age group.

                Reply

                  • RE: RE: RE: RE: Where is his wife and their mother

                    one who knows the real story wrote on: Jul 19, 2009

                    fact:sorry no school was ever started and trained as assistant to teacher only. wife is still doing a great job with kids but lets keep it real guys... keep the attention on those that are in the limelight only. others just want to be left alone.

                    Reply

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