2002: Leonard: No excuses, just an empty feeling

Chaska, Minn.

On a day when he had trouble finding his rhythm, Justin Leonard had no difficulty at all pinpointing the source of his hardships following his disappointing final round at the 84th PGA Championship.

In assessing his closing 77 that sent him tumbling from first to a tie for fourth at Hazeltine National, Leonard said it wasn’t a swing change still taking shape that did him in, nor was it the nervousness that accompanies leading a major championship on Sunday.

“It was me,” said Leonard, 30. “It wasn’t a swing flaw. I just didn’t hit it very well today. I don’t really have another excuse. The only excuse I have is that I didn’t play well.

“Sure, you’re nervous, but it’s not the reason I shot whatever I shot today. The reason I didn’t play well is because I didn’t play well – not because we’re at the PGA Championship. I don’t think I would have played well anywhere today.”

Leonard’s finish was surprising, especially considering how well he had played the first three days and how tough he has proven in the past when contending in some of golf’s bigger events. In the toughest conditions of the week, Leonard, who won the 1997 British Open at Troon and the 1998 Players Championship, carved out Saturday’s lone round in the 60s, shooting 3-under 69 amid winds gusting to 40 mph.

He took a three-shot lead over eventual champion Rich Beem into Sunday.

But on a calm day conducive to good scoring, Leonard was off with his usually sound iron game, and as a result, he placed too much pressure on his short game. His red-hot putter finally cooled. He held a share of the lead at 9 under after making birdies at the fifth and seventh holes, but one poor swing with his 6-iron at the par-3 eighth would cost him dearly, leading to a ball in the hazard and a double-bogey 5 that dropped him out of the lead for good.

“I don’t want to say he fell apart because he didn’t,” Beem said of Leonard. “But I think it (the 5 on No. 8) took a little wind out of his sails.”

Leonard, who has worked diligently with instructor Butch Harmon since late 2000 to simplify his swing – making it shorter and less reliant on sheer timing – said he already considers his season successful. He won the WorldCom Classic after the Masters, and has earned more than $2 million this season. His tie for fourth with Fred Funk marked his fourth top-20 finish in the majors in 2002.

But he left Hazeltine Sunday knowing he was one good round away from making a good season a great season.

“If I played well today, this would have been an outstanding year, regardless of what I do from here,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’ve got to rally. With about five or six tournaments left, I can still have a good year. . . . Now I have to refocus and work on getting that done.”


















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