AGE: 36 / HEIGHT: 5-feet-9__DRIVER:__Nike SQ SUMO 5000__BALL:__Nike One Platinum__DRIVING DISTANCE (RANK):__278.3 yards (163)DRIVING ACCURACY (RANK): 67.55 percent (40)FIRST, HIT IT SOLIDEverybody wants to hit the ball longer -- it's no different for me than it is for a 15-handicapper. But I learned the hard way that you struggle when you lose the feel of solid contact, no matter what the driving-distance stats say. After a run of missed cuts to start the 2007 season, I changed my grip and my setup with the help of my teacher, Randy Smith, and I started hitting the ball solid again. Once I was in control of my distance and trajectory, I could shape shots off the tee and into greens, like I always have. It's been the difference between hanging on to make cuts and playing late on Sunday with a chance to win.
RETURN OF THE TACTICIAN
Justin Leonard shapes his shots and starts to win againSwing analysis by Randy Smith, Golf Digest Teaching ProfessionalWhen Justin Leonard called Randy Smith for swing help before Bay Hill in March 2007, they had a comfortable conversation between old friends.Leonard had been working with Butch Harmon since 2001, but Smith had more than a passing familiarity with Leonard's action. Leonard grew up at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, where Smith taught him from the time Leonard was 8 until the switch to Harmon. Some of Leonard's mechanics had changed, but Smith understood how to get to the player he helped win the 1992 U.S. Amateur, '97 British Open and '98 Players Championship."The Justin Leonard I knew was always sure about what his ball was going to do. We were going to get that 'tactician' aspect back," says Smith. "I asked him to play Bay Hill working every shot one direction or another. I wanted him to get more reactive -- to let the shot shape his swing."Focusing on shotmaking over mechanics, Leonard made his first cut of the season. Then, it was back to Dallas for adjustments. Leonard's left-hand grip had drifted weak, he was holding the club more in his palms, and he had lost the flex in his knees. "He was diving into the ball, and he had a lot of separation of his right arm from his body on the downswing," Smith says. The result -- usually a pull hook -- ran counter to the shotmaking art that was Leonard's strength."The stuff he was working on with Butch wasn't wrong," says Smith. "He just needed to get back to his natural right-to-left shot shape. I don't think he knew how far his shots were going. Once he started hitting it solid again, the door opened almost instantly to being more confident."After a near miss at the Buick Open in July 2007, Leonard won for the first time since 2005 at the Texas Open in October. He followed that with another victory in Memphis this June, bringing a spot on the Ryder Cup team within reach."He had to re-access that old Justin attitude -- that he wanted to chew your leg off," says Smith. "It was still in there. And he can hit more shots now than ever before. He's a big fish. Now he's swimming with them again."
Moving to a 47-inch driver has added eight yards of carry.
His shoulders initiate the backswing. Look how quiet his legs are.
AT THE TOP
Great shoulder turn. He has lots of room to turn through fast. His right knee (inset photo) is flexed and supporting his upper-body turn.
Everything has moved toward the target. He's not hanging back here.
He's in the same posture as at address: no standing up.
"The stuff he was working on with Butch wasn't wrong," says Smith. "He just needed to get back to his natural right-to-left shot shape. I don't think he knew how far his shots were going. Once he started hitting it solid again, the door opened almost instantly to being more confident."