My Close Personal Friend Ivan Lendl

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Ivan Lendl is the coach not only of Andy Murray but also of the men’s team at my golf club’s enemy club, on the other side of town, with which we’re currently playing our annual two-day match. Ordinarily, Lendl would be playing No. 1 on their team, since he won their club championship this year, but his obligations to Murray at the (tennis) U.S. Open came first. Still, he drove up on Friday to give his teammates a pep talk. He’s an impressive tutor, as Murray’s record shows. My club is still ahead, historically—the match has been played every year since 1948—but we’re running slightly behind in the decade since Lendl got involved. (He and I were paired last year, and he whupped me both days.)

Lendl and his wife, Samantha, have five daughters, three of whom—Marika, Isabelle, and Daniela, who has been known as Crash since she was a little girl—are terrific golfers. Marika graduated from the University of Florida last year; Isabelle is a senior at  Florida this year; and Crash plays for the University of Alabama.

Isabelle qualified for match play in the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur, when she was thirteen. I first saw her play two or three years before that, when she was already proficient at a shot I’ve never seen an adult amateur pull off: a low, short chip that bounced once or twice on a firm green sloping away from her, then spun to a stop right next to the hole. In Florida once, Isabelle was hitting balls on a driving range while a pro watched her. After she had methodically worked her way through one large basket of balls, she moved to the next station, kicked over the basket sitting next to it, to spill out the balls, and went to work on those. The part of her game that impressed the pro the most, he told me, was the kick: she had clearly done this many times before.

When Crash was eight, she told her father that she wanted to play ice hockey, and he let her stay up late one night to watch a televised women’s game, in the Olympics. Early in the first period, two players were pressed against the boards, trying to control the puck, and Crash asked, “Why didn’t she just smash her into the glass?” Ivan said, “There’s no checking in women’s hockey,” and Crash said, “You’re kidding.”  She watched for a few more minutes, then, disgusted, went up to bed.

One weekend a few years later, Ivan told Crash that he had to go out of town on Sunday and that if she wanted a golf game that day she’d better find someone else to play with. When he got up to go to the airport, he found her in the bathroom with a club directory open on her lap, and a cordless phone in her hand. “It was six o’clock in the morning,” Ivan told me, “and she was already up to the H’s.” One of the people she had called was a woman she had played with in the past. The woman had been to a party with her husband the night before and hadn’t got to bed until three a.m., and was not interested in golf. “What about your husband?” Crash asked. The woman said that he was asleep. Crash said, “Well, wake him up and ask him.”

I wrote about the Lendl girls here, in 2006.

Marika, Isabelle, Crash, and their coach, 2009.

(Golf-match update: My club won, 15½-14½. So we hold the trophy till next year.)