Leonard Stays the Course Through Life Change Swing Change
Leonard is a dead-ringer for that stereotype of the savoir faire gentleman, dont you think? Weight down to a perfect 160. Hair perfectly positioned, even though it was covered by a cap. His shirt ' perfectly laundered, and the sweat stains didnt even think of showing. His trousers were neatly pressed with the creases still as though they had just come out of his closet. Rumor has it that he blew his nose somewhere around No. 10, but he didnt just mess up a Kleenex and toss it aside. He probably carries a starched white handkerchief, and when he finishes using it, back into his pocket it goes ' carefully folded, of course.
Oh ' he plays golf very well, too. Somehow we forget that. He doesnt win all that often, but when he does, its usually a biggie. The British Open in 1997, the Players Championship in 98. Hes won a couple of Texas Opens, a Kemper Open, a Buick Open. And now, a WorldCom title with the jacket that must have been fashionable in the 1960s. The only thing that looked out of place with Leonard was when he had to put on the garment ' the pattern clashed loudly with the color of his shirt.
Justin says hes changed his swing, though you couldnt tell it with the untrained eye. He stands straight up and swings around his body. He doesnt have a whole lot of movement. His swing has always been ' well, fastidious. Most players would think a swat that won the Brit Open and the Players, that has never sent him spiraling out of the top 25, would be pretty much a fixture. But he and coach Butch Harmon saw some things that need reworking, and they changed it.
The problem was that, from week to week, Leonard would lose it just enough that he didnt always feel competitive.
I felt like I struggled too much, he said. For the kind of player I was, I shouldnt be a streaky player. And I felt like I struggled too much in between good rounds.
I figured I had four or five good tournaments that year (2000, when he made the change), and the rest of it was struggling. And thats just no fun. So I felt like I needed to do something about it.
Leonard made a very big change in his personal life, too. In February, he got married, thus taking the tours second-most eligible bachelor off the blocks (Tigers still single, but thats in jeopardy at the moment.)
Justin met Amanda Beach in the parking garage where he lives. He was coming out and she was about to go in, her arms full of parcels. Leonard, always the gallant one, graciously offered his services. She had no idea who Justin Leonard was, but she gladly accepted the help. The rest is well, you get the picture. They were wed in February.
Leonard says the biggest thing about the wedding is just having it behind us. The preparation was a bit much, but it always is when you enter a life-altering change like this. He enjoyed it, he says, but hes glad its over. Now that thats over, hes found marriage to be quite pleasant, actually.
I dont know what I did when I was traveling alone, he said. I had to be bored out of my mind. Its great to find somebody that I want to be with all the time. Its incredible, said Leonard, who finds married life to the former Miss Beach quite comfy now in his 30th year.
It was partly a concession to Amanda that Justin was at Hilton Head. You see, she heard about tennis lessons at the island. Leonard wasn't particularly successful at Harbour Town in years past, but he gallantly agreed to go. So Amanda got her tennis, and Justin got his nice plaid jacket.
A lot, though, has changed since 97 when he won his major. And Leonard has done his best to keep pace.
I think I probably play a little more aggressively, because you have to, the way the players are out here and what you have to do to win, he said. Leonard, with his small stature, has always been a relatively short hitter.
But his wedge play and putting has always been his calling card, and it certainly was Sunday. Eleven times during the round he had to either putt, chip or wedge it to get up-and-down and keep the round going.
Leonard was winning for seventh time and he has been a pro for seven years. Thats pretty much been his rate of success ' one per year. He won twice one year, didnt win any another year. But other than that, its been a win a year.
And his victory at Hilton Head maintained that record. He has undergone swing changes and life changes, but one thing has not change ' he is still neat-as-a-pin Justin Leonard.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.