- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

COLUMBIA, Md. Regular visits to a sports psychologist, a new diet consisting of red meat and a change in golf balls have combined to elevate Leonard Thompson's game in the past few months.
Yesterday, those changes paid big dividends for Thompson, as the 53-year-old won his second Senior PGA Tour title with a two-hole sudden-death playoff victory over Isao Aoki at the State Farm Senior Classic at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club. Larry Nelson and Dana Quigley finished in a tie for third with an aggregate score of 9-under 207.
"It's very rewarding to know the things you've been working on have actually been beneficial," said Thompson, who shot a final-round 69 to finish at 11-under for the tournament. "It's helped me to put things in perspective on the golf course."
Thompson needed all the extra help he could get yesterday, as he headed into the 18th hole one shot behind Aoki. With Aoki, who shot a 7-under par 64 for a three-day total of 205, looking on behind the green, Thompson two-putted from 25-feet for a birdie to force a playoff. The two golfers headed back to the 18th tee for the first sudden death hole. After Thompson sank a short birdie putt, Aoki returned the favor with a four of his own and it was back to the 18th for the second playoff hole.
For the third time in as many holes, Thompson's drive landed in the left rough, while Aoki's ball was 10 feet ahead, also in the short rough. On his second shot, Thompson's ball took a few bounces in front of the green and settled on the fringe, some 60 feet from the hole. Aoki's iron shot flew right, grazing branches on the trees situated alongside the hole before finally landing in the rough, in front of a sand trap. The 57-year-old from Japan lofted a wedge over the bunker, onto the green and 12 feet past the hole.
Thompson's first putt rolled over a slight ridge, down the slope and stopped three feet shy of the cup. He sank the short putt, his fifth birdie on the 18th in as many tries this weekend. When Aoki missed his comeback putt, Thompson had clinched the win. Ironically, Thompson defeated Aoki on the second sudden death playoff hole for his first victory, at the 1998 Coldwell Banker Burnet Classic.
"This was the best round I've played tee to green all week," said Thompson, who switched to Callaway golf balls earlier this year. "With the exception of one or two shots I hit the ball in the middle of the club every time."
Five months ago, Thompson would not have uttered those words. He was in the midst of a year-long slump, had lost confidence and complained of constant fatigue. He finished the 1999 season with only four top-10 finishes in 36 events and ranked 29th on the money list, earning nearly $300,000 less than he had in the previous year.
After the struggles became too much to bear, Thompson decided to meet with Debra Graham, a sports psychologist, who had worked with other golfers, including Dave Stockton. From the first time they met, following the Countrywide Tradition in late March, Thompson has seen immediate improvements. Besides providing Thompson with mental advice, Graham also instructed Thompson to meet with a nutritionist, after hearing of her client's tiredness and dehydration. When the results came back, Thompson was told he was suffering from an anemia-like problem and had to increase his intake of salt and red meat.
Thompson obliged and has been on a tear ever since. In his seven tournaments before this weekend, Thompson placed in the top-10 five times.
"He's like a whole new person now," said Lea Thompson, the golfer's wife.
The rejuvenated Thompson played in the final threesome yesterday, along with Quigley and defending champion Christy O'Connor. He began the day with two pars before sinking a putt off the fringe in front of the green on the 563-yard par 5 third hole to gain the lead at 9-under. Thompson's birdie putt on the 4th stayed on the edge of the cup, leaving him with a one-shot margin over his playing partners.
After a par on the 4th, Thompson's tee shot on the par-5 fifth hole landed in the water on the left side of the hole, forcing him to drop a ball in the rough. His third shot landed in a bunker in front of the green but Thompson got up and down for the par.
"That's where I saved the round," Thompson said. "If I had gotten a 6 or 7 who knows what would have happened."
From there, Thompson remained consistent. While Quigley and O'Connor bogeyed the 6th hole, Thompson birdied the 8th to expand his lead.
But Aoki, Nelson, Hubert Green, Bruce Fleisher and Jim Albus (who finished in a three-way tie for fifth at 208) were all within striking distance. Green scored a hole-in-one on the 152 yard 11th hole using a seven-iron then followed with a birdie on the 12th to tie Thompson for the lead at 10-under. Aoki, who posted a bogey-free round, took the lead at 11-under after Thompson three- putted the par-3 16th hole, and remained there until Thompson's birdie at 18.
After he sank the 3-foot winning putt, the normally stoic and serious Thompson forced a smile when his grandson, Ford Parson ran onto the green and into his grandfather's outstretched arms.
"It may not look like I'm having fun out there because I try to stay the same level all times," Thompson said. "But I had a blast out there. You can't ask for much more than that."

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