Justin Leonard’s 45-foot birdie putt at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., sealed a dramatic comeback for Team USA at the 1999 Ryder Cup. Nine years later, his two wins and one tie at the 2008 Ryder Cup helped the U.S. pick up its 25th tournament victory.
Leonard also recorded 12 career wins on the PGA Tour, including the 1997 British Open by three strokes, and the 1998 Players Championship by two. While a student at the University of Texas, he won the 1992 U.S. Amateur Championship, the 1994 individual NCAA title and the 1994 Haskins Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate golfer.
Leonard, now 47, moved to Aspen, Colo., with his family in 2015 and retired from pro golf in April 2017. He has served as an analyst for Golf Channel/NBC Sports and now sits on the board of BackForever, a connected-fitness company founded by Aspen-based chiropractic doctor Jeremy James. BackForever’s subscription service provides users with self-assessment tools to help understand their back and joint mobility, and on-demand video training aimed at addressing weaknesses. A companion program launched in July called GOLFFOREVER, in which Leonard is heavily involved, offers a golf-centric fitness program with tips on swing biomechanics.
On GOLFFOREVER …
“Jeremy’s passion for this project really won me over. It’s unique to the market. Being able to bring world-class training and exercise minds in Jeremy [James] and Bill Fabrocini to the general public. They don’t have to get on a plane and fly here to Aspen. It’s pretty remarkable. I thought there was a need for it and we could help people enjoy the game better and enjoy life better. It just seemed like a great fit.
“Those guys know the body, the exercises, much better than I do. I shot some video a few different times of doing some exercises, and then a lot of what I do for our members are more golf-related. Course management, how to play a par-five better, how to decide on what type of chip shot you should hit, what do you do if your back starts to tighten up on the back nine, how to warm up properly—those kind of things are videos that I’ve done and will continue to do for our members to keep them engaged.
“People always make a New Year’s resolution to get in the gym more. They start feeling a little better, maybe they lose a few pounds, and then they’re done. People do that with golf, and they do that with working out. Our first goal is to diagnose what’s going on, then strengthen the area so the pain goes away. When that happens, a lot of times what happens is people stop doing the exercises, and that’s just a recipe for more injury. Our retention rate is very, very good. Part of that—and my role—is to keep putting content out there for our members so they’ll want to stay tuned and stay with the workouts.”
On fitting into the connected fitness market …
“I know our retention rate is higher than the industry average for this type of program. Peloton is a great model. Being able to do it in your home, on your time, at your own pace—that’s what people want to do. People are running around, including myself, and hardly have time for things. This is something that can be done at your home, in your office, during a lunch break, whatever. You don’t have to go to a gym, make an appointment and do all those things. You’ve just got to commit to doing it, and then you’ll find the time.”
“Our target audience really is that 40-to-70-year-old golfer who may be experiencing pain. Maybe they’re not but know they want to get stronger and do something golf-specific. This is made for 25 year olds, too, because it’s not just a blanket program. You go through an assessment and it’s custom-made for each individual. But the majority of our members are in that first demographic.
“It’s more than just for golf. I play golf occasionally. I’m not playing professionally anymore. I mountain bike, I road bike, I ski in the winter time, I play with my kids—all those things that we all enjoy doing. It’s not just about, ‘This is going to improve your golf game,’ but if you can get pain-free and get stronger in your core, in your back, better mobility in your joints, all those things are going to lead to a better lifestyle.
On his playing experience …
“Fortunately, I never really suffered any injuries. I didn’t play through a lot of pain, partially because I didn’t swing hard enough to create that much force. But also because I worked out and did very golf-specific workouts and worked out with a couple of great trainers over the course of my career. A lot of it was injury prevention. A lot of it is what we’re doing now with GOLFFOREVER.
“I used a launch monitor sparingly. Basically when I was testing equipment, testing a new golf ball or maybe there was something [in my swing] I was seeing that I didn’t really care for. I think I would probably use it more now. Guys have got it dialed in to the right levels of checking yardages. I think a launch monitor is a big reason Dustin Johnson got to No. 1 in the world because he realized he had to work on his wedges, and he used a launch monitor to do it.
“I never got seriously into biomechanics or motion capture. The one time I did was about 15 years ago, maybe 20 years ago, for an EA Sports game. I just had the white dots all over me. I didn’t take down any information or use it to any good, other than it got my swing into the video game. I was more of a feel guy than an analytical guy when it came to technology.”
On today’s pros …
“The level of athletes [keeps improving]. I know that the technology from the manufacturers has taken the game to a new place, but I think you’ve got to also pay respect to the athletes. The things that these guys do in the gym from a biomechanics standpoint—it’s pretty remarkable. The level of athleticism that you see from guys on the PGA Tour, it’s never been seen before. You’re getting athletes who are playing golf whereas, 20 years ago, these guys would have been point guards or quarterbacks or shortstops. But they’re playing golf now. That’s why they can hit the ball 320 yards in the air and do all the things that they can because it’s just a different level of athlete playing the game now versus any other generation.
“A lot of the golf clubs are made for today’s athlete—guys that get 170-, 180-mile-an-hour ball speed. It’s built more for them than it is for me. I still get some benefits, but I don’t get the same benefits that guys with really high swing speeds get.”