SI Vault
Alan Shipnuck
May 24, 1999
Harrison Frazar and Justin Leonard couldn't be more different, which may explain why they've always been such good friends
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May 24, 1999


Harrison Frazar and Justin Leonard couldn't be more different, which may explain why they've always been such good friends

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The first time Harrison Frazar and Justin Leonard played golf together was in 1984 at a junior tournament in Abilene, Texas, when Frazar was 13 and Leonard was 12. "It was freezing cold, and Harrison and I were wearing so many layers you couldn't tell if it was him or me coming down the fairway," says Leonard. "It was miserable that day, but it's cool for us to have a memory like that."

"It's cool for you," says Frazar. "You shot like 75 to win the tournament. I shot about a 95 and finished dead last. Now that's miserable."

Fifteen years later, Frazar and Leonard are still teeing it up together, but it has become easier to tell them apart. They have a regular game every Tuesday at 9 a.m. during tournament weeks, and this spring morning they're at Harbour Town Golf Links, on Hilton Head Island, S.C., preparing, in their own distinctive ways, for the MCI Classic. Leonard, having nearly beaten the sun to the course so he could work on his putting, arrives at the 1st tee at precisely nine looking as if he just stepped out of one of his Polo ads. Without so much as a practice swing, he carves a drive down the right center of the fairway. Perfect. Here comes Frazar, harrumphing his way to the tee, simultaneously tucking in a rumpled shirt, digging through his bag for a tee and asking bystanders what club to hit, for he has never laid eyes on the course. Frazar blew into town not nine hours earlier, and his first swing seems to come from a different time zone—a shocking slice deep into the forest. He bombs his mulligan 30 yards past Leonard's ball, not surprising for a guy who finished third on the PGA Tour in driving distance last year as a rookie. While Frazar is still dillydallying on the tee, Leonard has marched up the fairway and, yardage book in hand, is stepping off every daisy and anthill. "Tell you what," Frazar says, casting a sleepy glance at his buddy, "if he keeps making me get out here by 9 a.m., I'm done."

They've always been an odd couple, these two, ever since golf intertwined their lives all those years ago. Early in the summer of 1986 Frazar's family moved from Abilene to Dallas and joined Royal Oaks Country Club, where Leonard had been honing his game since he was a six-year-old prodigy. Having bonded on the harsh landscape of the Texas junior scene, Frazar and Leonard quickly became inseparable around the club, an unlikely Mutt and Jeff. Frazar was the endearing goof-off with a freewheeling swing, whose idea of hard work was "half a bucket of balls, two cheeseburgers and a nap," according to Royal Oak's longtime head pro, Randy Smith. Leonard, meanwhile, was the pint-sized range rat, already raising the members' eyebrows with his focus and determination.

Their friendship always had a competitive undercurrent, and it became a full-blown rivalry when they went to different high schools. At Highland Park, Frazar led his team to a pair of state championships and was a three-time all-Texas selection. Down the road at Lake Highlands, Leonard took his squad to one team title while twice earning medalist honors.

Through golf, Frazar and Leonard's friendship endured, and though neither would come out and say it, both later acknowledged that they had dreamed of being teammates in college. A cagey coach at Texas had them make their recruiting trips together, and when both were hooked by the Horns, they held a joint letter-of-intent signing party at the Leonard house. Despite disparate levels of hygiene, they insisted on being roommates in a tiny dorm room as freshmen, Frazar playing the Oscar Madison to Leonard's fastidious Felix Unger. "There was no trouble telling which side of the room was Harrison's," says Allison Frazar, Harrison's high school sweetheart and, since 1995, his wife. "They were so different." This went far beyond the occasional wayward sock.

"Justin was so motivated it was scary," says Frazar. "He knew what he wanted when he came to Austin—to play four years, be an All-America and then go to the Tour. I didn't know if I was good enough to play at that level, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to sacrifice my whole life to get there. I wanted to have fun, be a normal guy, be a student."

Frazar felt out of his league as a freshman, in part because Leonard seemed so comfortable. For such a diminutive kid, Leonard had always cast a long shadow. Frazar grew up measuring himself against his friend, and despite some impressive accomplishments of his own, always came up short. "I guess I knew Justin was special, but I didn't realize how special," Frazar says. "I saw the success he had, and since I didn't have the same kind of results, it affected my confidence." This affected his play, and at the urging of the Texas coaches, Frazar red-shirted as a freshman. Leonard, meanwhile, was off and running, and during his superlative collegiate career he would become the only golfer in history to win four consecutive Southwest Conference championships. He also won an NCAA title and the U.S. Amateur. From the day Leonard rode into town, he was the leader of the team, and his work ethic and controlled, calculating brand of play became the style of Longhorns golf. This was not Frazar's way.

"They're North Pole, South Pole," says Smith, who remains the only swing instructor either Frazar or Leonard has had. "Justin is an absolute technician. Since he was six he has built his game around going from point A to B to C. Harrison's first thought is to go from A to C and forget about B. Bash it, find it, chip it, putt it, start all over."

This kind of golf didn't thrill Jimmy Clayton, the Texas coach, and Frazar was put on a short leash. "There was tremendous pressure not to let my teammates down, but the real pressure was trying to do things someone else's way," Frazar says. "I was told that to be successful, you had to grind and sacrifice and beat balls and lay up and play to the middle of the green."

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