Justin Leonard sits in his Dallas condo doing what upwardly mobile twentysomethings do—filling in his appointment book. He reclines on a spotless taupe chenille sofa, props a pair of polished brown loafers on a faux-distressed coffee table and surveys the gratifyingly clean surfaces of his living room. "I try not to have crises," he says. Actually it's more accurate to say he doesn't permit crises. Find a crisis in Leonard's life, win free prizes.
So what if, at 5'9", he looks from a distance like a kid. Nothing else about Leonard suggests his youth. A buttoned-down dress shirt and a conservatively cropped shelf of dark hair make him appear older than his 23 years. They are also the signatures of a consummate golf professional of the '90s. The keys to a Land Rover and a pair of Armani shades complete the picture of a highly organized young golfer and a "borderline anal-retentive," he says.
Leonard schedules everything. So when he says a PGA Tour victory is imminent, one tends to believe him. "I've got a pretty good plan," he says. His career is a progression so orderly it almost undercuts his achievements. In 1992 he won the U.S. Amateur, in '94 he won the NCAA championship, and along the way he took a record four Southwest Conference titles. He did all this while playing at Texas, from which he graduated in four neat years with a degree in business. As a PGA Tour rookie last season he was quietly excellent. He was in the top 10 of only one statistical category—all-around, an amalgam of the Tour's other stats—but he led the Tour in it while finishing 22nd on the money list, with $748,793.
All that's left for Leonard to do is win something. In the estimation of Tom Kite, who mentored him and fed him some of his hot meals in Austin, "It's only a question of time. He's going to win often, and he's going to win big." Leonard's agent, Vinny Giles, the 1972 U.S. Amateur champion, calls him "the most golf-mature young player I've ever seen. By all rights he should have won already. He'll win before the end of the year."
Leonard almost won early in the year, at the Phoenix Open in January. He lost on the third hole of a gripping playoff to the only other twentysomething American player next to whom he suffers in comparison, 25-year-old Phil Mickelson. But even that loss represented another step forward for Leonard. Fellow Tour players generally agree that Leonard played championship golf on the final day, and had it not been for Arizona State alum Mickelson's hot putter and hometown advantage, the result might have been different. Leonard shot 69 in the final round to Mickelson's 67, and when they went to the extra holes, the partisan crowd (estimated at a Tour record 156,875) got vocal. "Hit it in the bunker!" they yelled at Leonard. As he lined up his putts, he heard, "Miss it!"
Even the most seasoned player might have folded. Instead, Leonard got splotches in his cheeks and rammed in a six-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole moments after Mickelson had made an eight-footer. Despite the playoff loss Leonard declared himself ready to challenge for the title of preeminent young American golfer. "I can't imagine a worse situation, unless we got hockey fans out there," he says. "If you don't learn from that experience, something is wrong. But I enjoyed it, I fed off it. Knowing what I did helped me more than anyone will ever know."
Even in discussing his toughest loss, Leonard is extremely measured. There is a metronomic quality in his speech, in his manner and particularly in his game. "I have the same swing thoughts, every day and every week," he says. His routine tends to be unvarying even when he is home. Take his newfound wealth. There have been no wild spending splurges. His only big purchases are the green Land Rover and the newly built two-bedroom condominium in the Turtle Creek area of Dallas. The latter he shares with his sister, Kelly, a 27-year-old account executive at a public relations firm. They live five minutes from their parents, Nancy, a housewife, and Larry, an administrator at a medical lab.
When Justin was house-hunting, Kelly wanted him to look at some older places that had more character and charm. Justin wouldn't hear of it. "He said the newer places were cleaner," she says. "He likes things clean and in their rightful places."
When Kelly moved in, one of Justin's rules was that she would have to make her bed every morning. Notepads sit next to every phone. "He makes lists of his lists," says Nancy. A perpetual pile of neatly stamped and addressed thank-you notes sits on the kitchen counter, waiting to be delivered to the post office.
Justin considers a big night out to be attending a Dallas Mavericks game with his father or a trip to Snuffer's for cheese fries. But when he's hungry he usually scoots over to his parents' house for some of Mom's cooking. For relaxation he drives 90 minutes to East Texas for some bass fishing with Randy Smith, his teaching pro at Royal Oaks in Dallas. But they do more talking and napping than actually catching fish. "I just like the gear," Leonard says. "I like all the stuff. Lures. Tackle boxes."