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June 10, 2009

Justin Leonard


THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome defending champion Justin Leonard to the interview area. You're making you're 11th appearance here. You've won this tournament twice. Coming in here off of a very solid Texas swing where you finished among the top 20 all three events. A couple general thoughts about coming here to defending your title.
JUSTIN LEONARD: It's nice to be back, playing a golf course that I enjoy and that I've had some success on. Played well for the last month or so. I had a good week off last week. You know, just looking forward to tomorrow and getting the tournament underway. Again, it's just nice to be back.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the course a little bit. Going to play different than last year or about the same?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Probably about the same. You know, the greens are in great shape. Not much wind the last couple days. The course is a little soft. I know you've had a bunch of rain up here the last month or so. So the golf course isn't quite as fast as what it was. There's probably a little more rough than there has been the last couple years.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. What is it about the golf course that seems to fit your game or your eye?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, you'd have to move the ball off both directions off the tees in order to fit it in the fairways. You know, probably the most difficult are the green complexes. With the Bermuda greens, they're a lot firmer than they were before and faster. So you have to be pretty precise in order to get the ball close. The last couple years have shown if the wind blows a little bit here, par is a good score. So it takes somebody who's patient. I tend to be a pretty patient player out on the golf course.

Q. You glad to say John Daly back or part of you taking a wait-and-see attitude to see how this all plays out, whether he's serious this time?
JUSTIN LEONARD: No, I think it's good that he's back. Looks like he's been -- I know he's played in Europe some this year. Looks like he's been playing pretty well the last month or so.
So I'm looking forward to seeing him. He puts fans in the seats, and that's important. He brings people to this golf course and he'll bring viewers to watch on TV. I think it seems like from the outside looking in that he's pretty serious about his game. That's a good thing for all of us.

Q. Being the defending champ and two-time winner, have you paid much attention over the last few months to the challenges they faced with sponsorship in this atmosphere? How closely have you paid attention to that? Do you worry about this event being able to take care of that in the future?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I do worry about it. I know mostly what's going on. I don't really know behind the scenes. Mostly just from what I read. I was here a month ago, talked with Phil Cannon a few minutes about it. It's a tough spot. Trying to find a title sponsor in this economy is difficult.
You know, if there's a tournament director on TOUR that can get that done, it's Phil. I have a lot of respect for him. I certainly hope it gets done because it's very, very difficult to survive, if not impossible, without one, without a title sponsor.

Q. You talked about playing well coming in here last few weeks. Better than you were coming in last year at this time?
JUSTIN LEONARD: You know, it's hard to remember. I'd probably had a better year overall coming into this week last year. But I don't remember playing particularly well in May last year. You know, it's a different year, though. I feel like my game has been solid, certainly not spectacular. But I feel like I'm building towards, you know, contending more often and winning golf tournaments.
So that's a good feeling, that I feel like my game's headed in the right direction. I'm seeing a little bit of improvement each week. So there's a lot of positives right now.

Q. Did you play Bethpage last time around?

Q. Do you remember any distinctly New York moments in that tournament, public course, 40 odd thousand people?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Especially in the practice rounds, how do you like our course ('course' pronounced with a New York accent) at least a few times a hole (laughter). But the people were great. They get into it. New York fans, Boston fans, Chicago fans seem to certainly get into their sporting events.
There's certainly an energy when you play near a large city like that, especially up around New York. The fans really bring an energy to the tournament. I enjoy that.

Q. How much of that do you think was a cathartic thing for them after 9/11 having happened weeks earlier, blow off steam? Seems like that was probably the underlying platform of why that week was so crazy and so loud.
JUSTIN LEONARD: I actually hadn't thought of that. But I think that's probably pretty accurate. But I would expect them to be pretty similar this year as they were in '01.

Q. I don't want to put you in Phil's shoes, but if your wife was going through what his wife is going through, do you think you'd be able to cope with that situation or would you be home?
JUSTIN LEONARD: That's a question I'm not going to answer. That's something, unless you've been through it, you have no idea, the range of emotions you go through. I don't know.
I think Phil is doing what's right for his family. Certainly he's not going to do anything without Amy's consent and blessing.

Q. Have you had a chance to reach out to him and his family?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I have. I have. Looking forward to catching up with him this week. He's got a lot of people, a pretty good support group, a lot of friends. It's just been through texting. I don't want to take up any more of his time. But I'll certainly catch up with him this week.

Q. As for Bethpage, they've added over 200 yards to that course since 2002. Are you troubled by that, the direction we're going?
JUSTIN LEONARD: No, not necessarily, because hopefully the golf course will play firm. If it doesn't, then some of those holes can be a little excessive in length. But Mike Davis of the USGA has really done a good job. He's been in charge of course setups for the U.S. Opens for the last four or five years, and he's really done a great job moving tees around, giving the holes some variety. So I'm not overall concerned about a couple hundred yards.

Q. When you were in Texas, did you at any point test some of the new grooves for wedges?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I have not. I think the first part of July I'm going to go over and take a look at the grooves. I'm going to have anything I need to change to be ready in September. After the playoffs, Presidents Cup, if I'm able to qualify for the team, I'll put the clubs I need to change in and play and start getting used to it.

Q. (No microphone.)
JUSTIN LEONARD: Not very long. I think it's more getting out and playing, see how the ball reacts. Fairway, it's not going to make a huge difference. The shots around the greens and certainly playing from the rough, it's gonna be playing. Be playing at home some, but getting out and playing on TOUR-condition golf courses will make a big difference.

Q. When you play a tournament you've won before, when you're on a particular hole, do you think about what you did the years you won the tournament? If so, what particular moments do you remember here?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, only the good memories. You know, I won the playoff last year on No. 11. Yesterday I kind of wandered over to the spot. Little things like that.
But really when I'm out there playing this week, not a whole lot of thought goes back to last year. That's more for practice rounds, maybe answer a question or two in the ProAm. Once tomorrow starts, last year's over and I'm competing and trying to win it this year.
THE MODERATOR: Justin, thank you very much. Good luck this week.

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