Leonard Stays the Course Through Life Change Swing Change


So Justin Leonard comes walking up to Harbour Towns 18th hole, and everything was picture-perfect. Cool as a cucumber? Yep, just like the old clich says. Nervous? No, certainly not that we could tell. A winner? Yes, most definitely. He had a one-stroke lead and the ball was sitting just off the green ' as close as humanly possible to a dead-certain two-putt for the trophy.

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.