Leonard Back 9 Years after Miracle

By Associated PressSeptember 13, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupThis might have been the one time Justin Leonard was tempted to go after someone in the gallery.
 
Leonard had just missed a short par putt on the ninth hole at Callaway Gardens when he heard someone say, 'Nice putt, Justin.' He stopped. He scowled. He stared. But when he saw the startled look on the man's face, he realized the reference.
 
This was 1999, one week after the Ryder Cup at Brookline.
 
Oh, that putt.
 
Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard reacts to one of the most memorable Ryder Cup moments in history. (Getty Images)
It was 'the shot heard 'round the world,' a 45-foot putt up the ridge on the 17th green of The Country Club that dove into the back of the cup on a Sunday afternoon of red scores, blue skies and white knuckles. So ended a stunning turnaround in his match, which guaranteed the half-point the Americans needed to complete the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
 
Nine years later, Leonard finally returns to the Ryder Cup.
 
'It doesn't seem that long ago because I've played in a couple of Presidents Cups, having kids and everything,' he said. 'But when I think of the Ryder Cup since then and how much it has changed, how the players changed, it's like, 'Has it really been nine years?' '
 
Leonard had three children in a 34-month span. He has revamped his swing and put it back the way it was. And he has watched the last three Ryder Cups on television, all of them European victories.
 
One thing that hasn't changed is the conversation about him.
 
Never mind that Leonard won a U.S. Amateur and a British Open, or that his dozen PGA TOUR victories include THE PLAYERS Championship. His career is defined by a single stroke with the putter.
 
'It's like 5-to-1 the comments I get about the Ryder Cup,' Leonard said. 'Where would I put it in my golfing career? I'd put it first, too. I would. Because it wasn't a total individual achievement. My little match was, but it meant something greater than that.'
 
It was so great that it turned ugly.
 
No sooner had Leonard turned with arms raised and ran off the edge of the green did U.S. players, wives and caddies charge across the putting surface to celebrate, even though Jose Maria Olazabal still had a 25-foot putt to tie. He missed.
 
Often forgotten amid the celebration is that Leonard didn't win the match.
 
In fact, he has never won a Ryder Cup match. Leonard's record from two Ryder Cups is 0-3-5. All he cares about now is getting another opportunity to change that when the Americans try to end a decade of losing to Europe on Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.
 
Leonard, the star of the American rally, produced a comeback of his own.
 
He failed to make the 2001 team, then had to wait three more years to try again when the Ryder Cup was postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He came close to earning a spot on the '04 team, but needing a victory in the PGA Championship, he bogeyed the last hole at Whistling Straits and lost in a three-man playoff to Vijay Singh.

And last time, he wasn't even a consideration.
 
In a search for length off the tee, Leonard finished out of the top 100 on the PGA TOUR money list for the first time in his career in 2006. He started the next season by missing the cut in his first six tournaments.
 
He never allowed himself to think that putt at Brookline would be his final Ryder Cup memory.
 
'People around me wouldn't let me do that ' Amanda first and foremost,' he said of his wife. 'She always told me about believing in myself. I spent more time two years ago, when I wasn't playing well, thinking about the Ryder Cup and the British Open, getting myself back in that mind-set. I really felt like I'd make another Ryder Cup team.
 
'I'm glad I didn't wait another two years, though.'
 
Some of the slump was induced by trying to change his swing. A lot of it was due to changes in his life.
 
Leonard met Amanda Beach in a Dallas parking garage, and they were married in February 2002. Their first daughter, Reese, was born in September of 2003; sister Avery came along in March of 2005 and Luke was born in July of 2006.
 
'That takes getting used to,' said Scott Verplank, his longtime friend and a father of four. 'Now when you go back to your hotel, it all begins. But I knew Justin well enough to know this was only a temporary setback.'
 
Leonard's wife didn't know much about golf when they were dating, but she knew he was talented enough to make annual stops at the TOUR Championship, win majors, be part of the Ryder Cup team. When they weren't changing diapers, they had honest discussions about his game and his goals, and it started with the Ryder Cup.
 
'I told him, 'You're the one who's got to do this,' she said.
 
The night after the PGA Championship ' Leonard was No. 6 in the standings ' they had a quiet celebration in their room and raised a glass of wine for a toast that was a long time coming.
 
'It was a genuine celebration,' she said, 'because he earned it.'
 
Now comes the hard part. Leonard laughs when he recalls the late Payne Stewart chirping in 1999 that the Americans had not won the Ryder Cup since he was last on the team. The 36-year-old Texan won't go that far, but he's happy to be back.
 
'He has been the link from our last winning Ryder Cup team,' Phil Mickelson said. 'He hasn't played since '99, and I think he's going to bring that winning inspiration.'
 
U.S. captain Paul Azinger feels the same way.
 
'He has a lot of heart and a lot of moxie,' Azinger said. 'He's going to be fun to have on this team.'
 
The last Ryder Cup was anything but that until the final day. Leonard halved two fourball matches and lost his foursomes match with Stewart. At one point, NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller suggested that Leonard would be better off at home, a remark that riled Leonard and the U.S. team.
 
But it didn't look far from the truth when Olazabal went 4 up through 11 holes, and Leonard opted to lay up short of the green on the par-4 12th. He wound up making a 12-footer for par to win the hole.
 
'That was the start of it,' he said.
 
Davis Love III, who already had won his singles match, decided to walk with him. Leonard politely suggested that Love go somewhere else, perhaps another match that was closer than his.
 
'He said, 'I'm staying with you. I think you're going to do something special,' ' Leonard said.
 
Leonard won four consecutive holes, the last one with a 35-foot birdie on the 15th, setting up his Ryder Cup moment on No. 17, a putt that is the last link to a U.S. victory. He does not remember anything about the 18th hole, only that he should have conceded a putt to Olazabal, who won the final hole for a halve. By then, the celebration was on.
 
Little did Leonard know it would take so long for an encore.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
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  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next 8-12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

    <
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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”