Justin Leonard had the look of a beaten man on a February night in 2007. He had just missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and had yet to make a cut all year.
Leonard did not know it at the time, but his slump would continue to the East Coast where he did not make a cut until the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
I was seated at dinner about 10 yards away from Leonard at Pebble Beach and tried not to make eye contact. He appeared to be deep in his own misery, and I remember thinking how brutal the game can be.
Here was a man with multiple wins and a major title, and yet, you could just see the wheels of frustration grinding away. Leonard was in a slump that February evening, and in 2012, he's revisited some of his frustrations.
The Texan is ranked 138th in FedExCup points and is 112th on the money list. Leonard is 150th in driving distance, 141st in GIR and 175th in Strokes Gained-Putting.
The rut may not be as deep as 2007, but it's still a rut.
What's the reason for those stats? There was an equipment change in the offseason, and it takes time to adjust. He has a growing family that diverts his attention, and he seems to play better in the year as the weather warms.
Are those reasons, excuses or rationalization? In 2007, Leonard worked his way out of his slump, improving as the months clicked off the calendar until winning the Valero Texas Open in October.
Leonard, a Dallas native who graduated from the nearby University of Texas, is a three-time winner of this tournament. That's why this week is so special for him.
The PGA TOUR season is a marathon, not a sprint. History tells us Leonard will find his game and reassert himself as one of the game's premier players, but that doesn't mean the season is not without its frustrations.
Now, let me quietly whisper some observations from the Valero Texas Open:
Patience:It's always a good idea to have patience when playing a difficult golf course, but TPC San Antonio requires an extra dose of calm. Players have to be prepared for a slow start, and I'm not talking about their score.
The course begins with a 454-yard par 4 followed by a par 5, then a par 3. That is the perfect recipe for a traffic jam. The first hole ranks as the toughest on the golf course in the last two years. The second is a reachable in two, and the third hole is fronted by water. Players have to be mentally prepared for a wait on each of the first three holes.
Par 5s:Several players use a simple formula when attacking a golf course. Play the par 4s and par 3s conservatively, and attack the par 5s. That doesn't work at TPC San Antonio. The course had the highest scoring par 5s on TOUR last season, with a stroke average of 4.94. It's not so much hitting the greens -- it's the undulations in the putting surfaces that cause difficulty. It does a player no good to hit a green in two and follow it up with a three-putt for par. Several players this week will lay up and then attack the par 5s with a wedge finding it easier to make a 15-foot birdie putt than to two-putt for birdie from 50 feet away.
Bermuda: Players are seeing a much different golf course than they have the last two years at TPC San Antonio. South Texas had a warm spring and winter, with generous rainfall. It's been ideal for the Bermuda grass. Last year the course was overseeded with rye but this year, it's pure Bermuda. Playing out of the rough of chipping around greens with require a totally different technique this year.
Winner, Winner: I figure it's about time for Cameron Tringale to tap into his huge potential and enter the win column. He has superstar written all over him, and San Antonio plays into his strengths. Tringale strikes the ball, well ranking 10th in Total Driving and follows that up being ranked 32nd in GIR. His putting is a solid 56th in Strokes Gained-Putting. Tringale is fresh coming off a tie for eighth at the Shell Houston Open and played well in San Antonio last year, finishing tied for fifth.
Welcome to the winner's circle, Cameron.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the Valero Texas Open. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio,click here.
- Justin Leonard
- PGA TOUR