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The Liberation of Justin Leonard

Case in Point Three: the dog. Though Amanda grew up raising white Labrador retrievers with her sister, the idea of getting Sunday was not hers. It was Leonard's, to make her happy, and because he himself had never had a dog as a kid. It was also more or less impulsive. Once Leonard got the idea in his head, he found a breeder, and the next Saturday night, to Amanda's surprise, instead of having the promised fancy dinner they drove out to the country and picked out Sunday from a litter. They'd made no provision for the puppy back home, so that night Sunday peed on newspapers beside their bed. The supposedly finicky Leonard was far too elated to be perturbed.

"It was pretty easy to figure out who I wanted to go see," said Leonard in our interview at his home, about his coaching change. "Butch Harmon had watched me hit a few balls at a tournament earlier in the year and had helped me. He worked with Tiger at the time, so that says a lot about him right there. But he also works with Mark Calcavecchia, who has a totally different swing, and that was important, too, because it meant he didn't just teach one type of swing.

"It was tough because of Randy, though. I called Randy on the phone to tell him. I told him I just needed to get a fresh pair of eyes, a little fresh perspective. He was disappointed, but I think he understood. Randy and I are still close, as close as we've ever been, we just don't spend all our time on the range. He was a groomsman in my wedding."

The main thing that Harmon and Leonard worked on was setup. "Butch knew exactly what I needed before I even got there," said Leonard. "I used to set up strong, more on my left side, but this required me to take the club back too far. Now I set up with a little more weight on my right side, which promotes a shorter backswing, a little bit simpler swing. The new setup also let me get some extra extension. With all the movement in my old setup, I tended to get too close to the ball."

Sunday chose this moment to join us in the living room, badgering for attention. Leonard tickled him under the chin. "I know it all sounds pretty simple," he continued, "but it took me the first six months of the 2001 season to get used to it. With the new setup I tended to align myself to the right, and I would move the ball too far back in my stance to compensate. But it paid off because now I think I'm hitting the ball more consistently than I ever have."

By closely observing Leonard's unique waggle, you can detect the change Harmon instituted. With robotlike consistency, right before hitting, Leonard takes his eye off the ball to watch his clubhead go back about two or three feet. In high school, when he began this routine, its only purpose was to check that his take-away didn't go too far to the inside, but now he also uses the waggle to shift his weight subtly to the right.


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