He doesnt look like hes ever going to get the job done. But he has - eight times. If beauty had anything to do with it, Corey Pavin wouldnt have won 14 times. Jim Furyk wouldnt have won seven times. And Ernie Els or Fred Couples or David Duval would never lose a tournament.
But there you have Justin, and if he still looks like the fraternity kid on spring break, so be it. Truth is, he has a tremendous amount of grit. And he has a lot more talent than meets the eye. He hangs around, winning one of these things every year, just often enough to say, Remember me? And at that point, you remember, Sure ' Justin Leonard! Hes sneaky effective ' witness the 1997 British Open when he was the winner.
Leonard is 5-feet-9 and only 160 pounds. He speaks in a rather nasal voice. But all that is just window dressing. Somewhere underneath all that, theres a pretty tough customer. Give him a final-round position somewhere near the top and hell fight all way until the sun goes behind the clouds.
I feel like the tougher it gets, the more you have on the line, Leonard once said last year. I don't know, I think I look forward to that. I look forward to a challenge.
I'd sure like to make it look easier at times, I know that. It would be easier on me, it would be easier on my wife and friends and family. There's something special about gutting something out, and whether it's golf or whatever you may do, it really proves what you're made of.
Look at the majors last year ' he finished in a tie for 20th at the Masters, a tie for 12th in the U.S. Open despite a course that played as long as Yellowstone Park, tied for 14th at the British Open, and a tie for fourth at the PGA. He wasnt really spectacular, you think ' one win, one second over the year-long grind ' but he finished in the top-20 17 times. And he only teed it up 26 times.
Leonard, of course, is a wizard with the putter. He sank what may go down as the most famous putt in history ' the 45-footer in the 99 Ryder Cup that provoked the wild U.S. celebration on the 17th green. But much more than that single incident, he has proven to be a pretty tough hombre with the little stick down through the years. He finished 18th in the rankings last year and is sixth this year.
You look at Brad Faxon's stroke versus Loren Roberts stroke and they go at it totally different, he said in trying to explain what is common to all good putters. I think they are both great readers of greens and they putt with a lot of confidence all the time.
That's something that I kind of fight sometimes is not having a whole lot of confidence, but I think we all go through bouts of that. I don't think there's one thing that you have to do to become a great putter. If there was, we would all be great putters.'
And if it were easy to pull off a victory, the entire tour would be winners. One thing is certain, though ' Leonard is more likely to win if he is coming from behind than if he is out front all by himself. There isnt a question if you should go for the flag or not. Your decision is made for you.
Youre forced into it, he agrees. And sometimes, that's a good thing because there's no real decision on whether, Hey, should I aim at this pin, or should I play it safe? When you're coming from that many strokes behind, you kind of have to go at pins.
He may be a neat-freak (he is). He may have an unorthodox swing (he does). But one thing is, he will always be a fighter. Some will result in wins, some wont. But Justin Leonard is not going to quit on you.