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The Liberation of Justin Leonard

During his first six years as a pro, long before Amanda and Sunday made their appearances, Leonard lived a serious, mostly solitary, carefully orchestrated life in Dallas, built almost entirely around golf. The apartments he lived in were always conveniently close to his parents' Highland Park home because, in plotting his tournament schedule and business deals, he consulted closely with his dad, and in making travel and other logistical arrangements, he relied on his mom. Whenever Leonard wasn't actually out on Tour, he practiced daily at Royal Oaks under the eye of Smith, his boyhood coach. Afterward, he worked out at a gym and then went home to compile and review the lists and lists of lists he used to organize his life—and for which he was given no end of grief by some of the childhood friends he kept up with, including Tour player Harrison Frazar, his rival from Highland Park High School and later his roommate at Texas. At night he occasionally went out for beers and shot a little pool, and along the way he did a little dating, including a brief fling with Lanny Wadkins's daughter, Jessica. But mostly Leonard was a golf nerd. "The biggest thought of the day," he said of that period, laughing, "was what I was going to do for dinner."

Leonard was not unhappy during these years. He loved the game of golf, loved learning more and more about the game and loved getting better. In 1997 he won the British Open, in 1998 the Players Championship and in 1999 he starred in the Ryder Cup matches.

But at some point during the 2000 season, things started to go a bit stale. It wasn't a slump exactly. Leonard claims he's never really had a slump, and the consistency of his performance as a pro bears this out: He is one of only three players (Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the others) to have qualified for the season-ending Tour Championship in every year he's been on Tour, and he has won at least one tournament annually since his sophomore season, except in 1999, when he still wound up eighth on the money list. But he felt he just wasn't hitting the ball as crisply as before, and thus he wasn't having much fun. "I think I played in twenty-eight events that year, but well only in about four of them. The other weeks I was struggling. It was frustrating, particularly given the amount of practice I was putting in," he told me.

So as soon as the 2000 season ended, despite having won more than $2 million that year and finishing fourteenth on the money list, he did something radical, something that for him was almost an act of patricide. He picked up the phone and sought help not from Randy Smith, his longtime instructor, but from another coach, Butch Harmon.

It may or may not be simply a coincidence, but it was just a few months before Leonard called Harmon that he had met Amanda Beach. They first encountered each other in the Dallas condo complex where they both lived: He was headed out to a bar with a few of his pals while she was returning home from dinner with a few of hers. It was like a scene from the television series Melrose Place. One of Justin's pals knew Amanda and made the introduction. The fireworks weren't immediate. It took two more chance meetings in the garage (in the first of these, Leonard helped Amanda lug some heavy potted plants from Home Depot up to her apartment) before Leonard finally said, "You know, we really ought to go out for a beer sometime." He gave Amanda his phone number, but when she didn't call, he got her number and a few days later took her out for dinner.

Like a lot of successful relationships on Tour, Amanda and Justin's is not predicated on the woman's knowledge of all things golf. "I think Chris Reeder [the guy who introduced them] mentioned that Justin was a golfer," Amanda recalled last fall in San Antonio as she and I followed Leonard around the La Cantera course at the Valero Texas Open. "But I definitely didn't realize he was a famous one until we were in the restaurant that night and I noticed everyone looking at us. I remember thinking, 'This is weird.'" Even so, they hit it off and stayed up talking till 2 a.m. That was in April. In July they took a trip together, to Telluride, Colorado, and that, she said, was where they fell in love.

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