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."
COLOR PHOTO: BEN VAN HOOK The bag-hopping Janzen is still adjusting. [Lee Janzen with golf bags]