A year ago, Lee Janzen was hot off an impressive win in the Players Championship and on everyone's short list of contenders for the Masters. This year, although he became $4.5 million richer before he ever stuck a tee in the ground, Janzen hasn't been able to buy a victory, and heads to Augusta as the million-dollar winner from '95 least likely to succeed.
If all this sounds familiar, it's because Janzen had a similar hiccup in his career after winning the 1993 U.S. Open. The following year, trying to cash in on newfound fame through endorsements, he changed clubs. The switch was a disaster almost from the start, and his earnings for the year dropped by more than 50%. It was only after returning to his old Founders Club driver, forged Nicklaus irons and wound Titleist ball that Janzen won three tournaments and more than $1.3 million in 1995. But that success led him right back to where he had been in '93.
Feeling undervalued, Janzen changed management companies for the fourth time in four years, bolting Golden Bear International and signing with Leader Enterprises. Within four months Leader had doubled Janzen's endorsement contracts, shifting him to Taylor Made Burner Bubble woods and irons, the two-piece Bridgestone Precept EV ball and Fila Sportswear. In all, Janzen is guaranteed $4.5 million over three seasons, plus performance bonuses. But on the surface, at least, it appears as if he has fallen into the same trap that caught him in 1994.
Janzen says no. The difference, he maintains, is that he didn't rush into any of the new deals and is confident that Taylor Made will provide equipment that works for him. At the Players, for instance, Janzen for the first time used irons that are a quarter-inch shorter. "The only thing I'm adjusting to is how straight my shots are going," he says. And while his run thus far in 1996 has been choppy—he started out with back-to-back top-10 finishes on the West Coast but has not been higher than 41st since Phoenix—Janzen is not questioning his decision to make the changes. "I don't feel like I sold out because I went with class companies," he says.
Jack Nicklaus was left wondering if that made him chopped liver. Not only did Janzen stop playing Nicklaus's irons, he terminated his agreement with the Golden Bear's management company by mail, rather than in person, which Nicklaus felt was poor form. He told Janzen so and added that he thought Janzen had been "sold a bill of goods" by Leader. Janzen replied that Mark McCormack probably felt the same way when Nicklaus left IMG in the 1960s.
All of which has added up to a frustrating start to the new season for Janzen, and after he bogeyed the final hole of the third round at the Players, the strain showed. Janzen angrily whipped off his Taylor Made hat, then took his Precept ball and fired it into the pond bordering the 18th green. The good news for Taylor Made is that his clubs did not follow.
Yet, for the most part, Janzen is keeping the faith. "I will play better," he said last week after finishing 46th with a five-under-par 283, the same score he won with a year ago. "I know I will. I'll have my run."