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Justin Leonard signs with Nike Golf

Passion and innovation - not only two distinct qualities that set Nike Golf apart in the industry, but also the dynamics that have attracted Justin Leonard to join the Tour Staff of one of golf's newest leaders.

Nike Golf is proud to announce that Justin Leonard, a 10-year veteran of the PGA Tour, has joined the Nike Golf Tour Staff.

"Justin is going to light it up this year, I can just see it in his eyes," said Kel Devlin, Global Sports Marketing Director for Nike Golf. "We ask our players for their input, their help, their opinion so that we can get them what they need to compete at the highest level. Justin feels that we can help him return to prominence. In turn, we take player feedback and develop product that will help the average golfer compete at the highest level. What is nice for us is that Justin has really embraced this concept."

Leonard, the '97 British Open Champion, the '92 U.S. Amateur Champion, and an 8-time winner on the PGA Tour, is making the first manufacturer change of his professional career. A well-known traditionalist and a fiercely loyal competitor, Leonard said he was attracted to the energy and innovation that Nike Golf has been bringing to the sport of golf.

"Just looking at the history of Nike it's all about innovative products that are for athletes. Nike Golf is the same. At Nike, golfers are athletes," said Leonard, who proudly lists the White Rock Marathon ('01) in Dallas among his career accomplishments.

From the debut of the solid-core golf ball with Tiger Woods in 2000 to innovations such as Air CG (center of gravity) introduced with the Slingshot Irons in 2003 and the next-generation titanium, NexTi, introduced with the Nike Ignite Driver in 2004, Nike Golf has been leading change not only in equipment but also in footwear and apparel.

"I'd say that Nike really caught my attention when Tiger started playing the [Tour Accuracy] golf ball in 2000, and then you had these guys that you knew had played one ball or another for a very long time all of the sudden started playing Nike balls," said Leonard at a recent photo and commercial shoot for Nike Golf in Las Vegas. Leonard will begin appearing in commercials for Nike Golf almost immediately.

"I would say in the last two years the [Nike] equipment has really surpassed anything I had believed Nike could do. It really passed anything I thought that any company could do. And I'm just delving into it. I know that Tom Stites [Director of Product Creation] designed a couple sets of my irons years ago and for him to be at Nike with that kind of technical thinking and always trying to push the envelope on 'let's make this better' and thinking more outside the box, you know, that's an environment he's going to thrive in and he's going to come up with some amazing products."

Leonard has entered an exclusive multi-year relationship with Nike Golf that includes clubs, ball, glove, bag, footwear, apparel, headwear, and accessories. He will reconnect with Nike Golf's lead club engineer Tom Stites, who used to develop new equipment for Leonard's previous endorser.

The Buick Invitational is expected to be Leonard's first PGA Tour start of 2005. He will be carrying Nike Golf's 410cc Ignite Driver, Nike's Forged Blade Irons, Forged Pro Combo Wedges and playing the successful Nike One Black golf ball. In addition to making the switch to Nike Golf's technical and stylish apparel, he has also met with Nike Vision representatives and is expected to be in new eyewear early in the year.

One area of equipment that will not change for Leonard is his footwear. Ironically, Leonard had forgone a competitive contract and earnings in order to wear Nike Golf footwear for the past three years. He will continue to wear designs from Nike Golf's Sport Performance line - athletically engineered golf shoes that combine unequaled comfort with classic style.

"I used to go through a lot of band-aids," admitted Leonard. "I could tell you where to find band-aids in any pharmacy at a Tour stop and what kinds they had. I was wearing Nike running shoes at the time, so I got a couple pairs of their golf shoes to try out and my band-aid knowledge instantly decreased. I had a couple of companies contact me about wearing their shoes and getting paid to do it, but I wasn't willing to give up that comfort. To be able to put on a pair of shoes out of the box and not worry about [discomfort] was more than worth the money that I was passing up to wear other companies' shoes."

Leonard is looking to Nike Golf to help him regain his position among the top players in the world. He was a perennial fixture at the year-end Tour Championship, competing there nine straight seasons and tied with Vijay Singh for the longest streak until 2004 when he failed to qualify. Currently ranked 39th in the world, Leonard is excited for a new beginning with Nike Golf in 2005.

"At 32 I'm just getting into my peak years," said Leonard. "And with the help of Nike Golf I'm going to be able to achieve my maximum potential in these next few years."


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