Justin Leonard First Round Interview Transcript
Q. Phil was talking about how he thought equipment changes were going to lower scores this year. I wonder if you noticed changes in equipment? Are you longer, more accurate? Have you hit 18 here before?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I've hit 18 before, I have. You know, it's hard to tell. I know that the ball that I'm using, I'm hitting it farther. You know, I made some changes with my golf swing. I've changed shafts, my driver. You know, it's hard to tell if it's the things I've done with my swing physically or if it's the equipment because I've changed some things. If I was doing one or the other the same, I might be able to tell you. I'm sure the equipment has something to do with it, yeah. But I think the things I've done have something to do with it, as well.
Q. In simplest terms, what are the nature of the changes you've made?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Different setup position. It's alleviated some timing issues and things that I've had problems with in the past. You know, trying to shorten my golf swing up. It's been a lot easier from the position where I am now.
Q. Are these some of the toughest greens you've putted all year, given the grain, slope, how the wind blows?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yeah, they're hard to read. You know, I've seen them faster than this. I think they're at a pretty decent pace now just because of all the elements you deal with. But, you know, yeah, it is difficult because you've got grain going one way. Even though it may look like it's doing something else, you throw wind into that, you know, they're very large so you're going to have some long putts. A lot of times you feel lucky if you get it within six or eight feet of the hole.
Q. Is speed the key to everything? You're always trying to figure the grain.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, it's not that hard to figure out, but it gets tricky on longer putts. You know, you may be going downhill, but it's maybe not as fast as they've been in years past. You get going into the grain, into the wind, you're thinking, 'Have I ever had to hit a putt this hard?' You know, I would say, judging the speed on the longer putts, things like that, it's probably the hardest thing.
Q. You played three not too bad rounds last week, even though you got eliminated. Do you think that helped you with this tournament, having gotten a tournament under your belt? Did you feel like you were playing well going down there to begin with?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I think so. I felt like I was playing pretty well going down there. You know, to go through the preparations, you know, kind of get in that tournament mode where you go through the routine and things like that, I think that's got to help for this week. You know, the first tournament of the year -- last week, I kind of went out there, you know, judging where I would be. You know, after playing three rounds, you know, obviously a little disappointed, but knowing that I played pretty well, you know, gives me a lot better idea of what I need to work on coming into this week. I think I'm able to get a little more specific with what I need to do to get ready.
Q. How much longer are you?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, it's kind of hard to tell this week (laughter). You know, I hit some good drives today. You know, I kept it up with Chris DiMarco for the most part. He hit a couple by me, but I hit a couple by him. A week like this, that's where you have to judge, is the distance you hit it comparative to other players. I don't know what changes he's made. Hard to say, but I would guess -- I would think that I've picked up maybe ten yards in the last month or two from the changes that I made.
Q. What's the shaft?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't know. Steve Motta from Titleist sent it to me, sent me three different shafts. I think Fujikura -- I don't know if that's the name of the shaft or the company. He sent me three or four different shafts. This is the one I picked.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yes.
Q. We kept hearing, because of Tiger's play last year at this tournament, raising the bar, basically everybody had to play a little better. Phil was in here yesterday talking about the fact that people really now have to go for birdies rather than play for pars. Is that what's happening? Everybody has to shoot 62 or 63, try to shoot that because of the way the game is being played?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't know. You know, I've always tried to play as well as I can, prepare myself the best way I knew how to. Obviously that changes from time to time, you know, as I learn more about myself and the game. But, you know, I don't know. I don't think I've ever let another player really affect what I did to prepare. Unless I've been, you know, lazy in my preparations or practicing or what have you, you know, until I see that, I don't think I'll let another player affect what I do to try to get my game ready because it's probably different from what everybody else tries to do. The key for all of us is to find -- you know, Tiger has obviously found a way to get himself ready to play every week, week in, week out. You know, that's what the rest of us need to find. There have been some players that have done that over a stretch of time - maybe not as long as Tiger has done it. You look at the way that Ernie has played. You know, he can get on a real roll. David is obviously a great example. That's what's rest of us are searching for: how to get our games ready every day, every tournament we play. You know, obviously it can be done. We just need to find out, you know, each of us in our individual way, how to get that done.
Q. You've won a major. You've won other tournaments. Has his play, though, in a way made you change your thinking, not you per se, but with guys, what they have to do?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I can only answer for myself. I'm going to say the same thing I just said: another player will not affect the way I play the game, the way I prepare to play. That's as simple as I can make it. Now, maybe if it gets to a point, I should. As of right now, I'm going to be stubborn and say, 'You know what? I need to figure out what it takes for me to play well.' It's a constant search, you know. I'll continue to search.
Q. When you came here last, which was two years ago, your tee shot on No. 4, you walked up the hill and played the next shot. This time, which was the case last year, you're given a shuttle up the hill to the fairway. Do you think that's right, especially the timing of it, in that Casey's oral arguments are between the Supreme Court, The TOUR indicates that walking is an integral part of the game? Do you have any thoughts on that?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't. This is a difficult golf course to walk. It was not -- I don't think it was designed with the intent of galleries and people walking. They don't have a lot of caddy ProAms around this area. You know, I never thought of it until you said it just now. I probably won't think of it tomorrow. This is a very difficult golf course to walk. It can take a long time.
Q. But as a follow-up, do you think that strips a minute advantage to someone who is fit, such as yourself, to walk up that hill and then the challenge I guess is to get your legs back under you to hit the next shot as opposed to someone who is maybe not in shape?
JUSTIN LEONARD: You know, if I had my druthers, we'd all have to run from the 5th green to the 6th tee.
Q. That's different, though.
JUSTIN LEONARD: And hit it within 30 seconds (laughter).
Q. It's easy down the hill.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yeah. You know, but I don't mind getting a lift every now and then, because it is a long week. Sure, I mean, I'd love to see us walk everywhere we go.
Q. Once the ball is in play, I guess, is my point. I understand 5, 6, 9 green to 10 tee. Once the ball is in play, do you see any inconsistency with what The TOUR is saying and what they're going to be arguing next week?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I'd prefer not to get in the middle of that one.
Q. Thought I'd ask.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Nice try (laughter).
Q. What are you getting from the ball, playability characteristics?
JUSTIN LEONARD: You know, it drives better, further than the Prestige, but it still spins with the short-irons. It seems to take off at a certain level and almost flatten out. I really noticed it more with the new shaft that I'm playing with. You know, it's got a better flight on it. I think it's probably a little better ball in the wind for me. You know, it feels good around the greens. I think it's a ball that a lot of us that play the Titleist products have really been waiting for. I mean, you know, I hate to sound like an advertisement here, but we're all real excited about it.
Q. Doesn't spin as much as the Prestige?
JUSTIN LEONARD: With the short-irons, yes. I think it spins. Around the greens, I feel it's very comparable.
Q. Having made all the adjustments you talked about, setup adjustments, change in shaft, new ball, when you start to look at the year, maybe assess what kind of goals you have, do you become more ambitious, your goals become higher, 'I can do more now because I have myself in position'?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Probably so. I mean, you know, I've got a lot of similar goals with the other guys as far as result-oriented, you know, competing, trying to win a major, you know, being ready to play each week, obviously making The Ryder Cup team, those kind of things. I've got some other personal goals, you know, that I always set for myself each year that I don't let anybody know about. But, yeah, I think probably with the things I've done in the off-season, I'll probably be a little more ambitious with, you know, a couple of my more result-oriented goals.
Q. Your scoring average maybe, but with all the things I've done, I bet I can go out and average --?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Something like that. Stats, you can have them. I'd like to do this and that. I see these changes I've made. I say, 'Well, you know, definitely have to reevaluate a little bit.'
Q. Was there any extra satisfaction coming back after being away, getting a win, kind of an honor to come here?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Absolutely. This is a goal right here, is to play in this tournament every year. You know, there's only one guy that is in it right now, and that's Steve Stricker. That's a list you want to get on early. You know, it's fun to be here because you come in a few days early, the weather is always great. We went fishing earlier in the week, things like that. It's a pretty relaxing atmosphere. Nice way to start the year.
Q. The way you finished up last year strong, winning obviously, how much better frame of mind or more positive did that get you coming into this year, or did it?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, yeah, it's certainly a big load off of my mind. You know, I know had I not won, sitting -- well, I wouldn't be hitting here (laughter). You know, it's nice not to be asked, 'Gee, you hadn't won.' I'm sure you guys have it all broken down to the hour, you know, 6,473 hours, how does that make you feel? I'm glad I don't have to answer those kind of questions because I was starting to get them before Texas Open. You know, hopefully I'll take care of this a little more frequently and won't -- we won't have to approach that subject again.
Q. Do you think those are legitimate questions for guys who are in the elite and have won and don't win for a while, people saying, 'Why have haven't you won?'
JUSTIN LEONARD: We ask that of ourselves, so sure. I mean, sometimes when you catch me, I'll give you a long, you know, answer, we'll have a conversation about it. There's other times you catch me when I'll say -- you know, I won't even say a word.
Q. Long stare?
JUSTIN LEONARD: From me (laughter)? It's one of those things we don't like to talk about in the public. But, sure, it's something we all think about. You step up there, you're hitting balls Wednesday afternoon at the ProAm, you think, 'This feels pretty good. It would be sure be nice to get one in there somehow.' You know, same things that you think about have been through our minds already.
Q. What can you do now that you couldn't do when you turned pro? 25 yards longer off the tee, is that about right?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Uh-huh.
Q. Do you feel like more of a threat on par 5s? Can you talk about what you can do now versus then?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yeah. I've always been a pretty smart player and managed my game well. Now that I'm hitting the ball further, you know, I'm able to compete on a larger variety of golf courses. You know, when I turned pro in '94, I mean, Kingsmill was the third tournament I played. If you'd seen me play amateur golf, you picked one golf course that I might play well on tour, that was going to be it. You know, that was a stroke of luck there. But now I feel like I've gotten to the point where I can compete on any kind of golf course, and I'm still a smart player. You know, other guys do it in reverse. They bomb it, then they get smart. I don't bomb it, but I'm getting closer, and at the same time, you know, I'm still able to think my way around the golf course.
Q. What do you think are the relationships between US and Europe, the core part of the Ryder Cup teams, how would you describe that?
JUSTIN LEONARD: You know, I think things settled down a little bit this last year, later in the year. You know, I'd like to see it get better.
Q. Let me rephrase. How do you think they are now, going into 2001, compared to '99, going into the early part of that Ryder Cup year?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't think there was really any strain going into '99, and I think there's still some now. You know, I hope that, you know, both teams put that aside and have a great match, make it very close, just show the world just how much sportsmanship is still involved in golf, an event like The Ryder Cup, then we won't have to hear about it anymore.
Q. There's been a lot of talk that a lot of the onus is going to be on the gallery, not repeat the behavior. Do you think there's also an onus on the players just as much so?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yeah, I do. We can only do so much, and the same thing with the gallery. It's going to take a combined effort. Obviously we can only control so much. But, you know, it will take both for things to really get back to where they were -- where we all want them to be.
Q. Do you think psychologically, that may be a carryover from '99 to this one, or do you think --?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Sure. There will be carryover, absolutely.
Q. Both positive on the US end and negative from the Europeans?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Sure. I still felt '97 going into Boston. So, yeah, I would imagine so.
Q. Apart from the celebration, have you and Olazabal talked about the putt you made?
JUSTIN LEONARD: That's not a subject I would prefer to bring up.
Q. I don't know if he ever came up and said, 'Nice putt,' just in a quiet moment.
JUSTIN LEONARD: No. You know what, we've played together several times, twice at Valderrama the last two years. You know what, I mean, if I needed something from Ollie, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the phone and call him. I feel like our relationship is great. But I really feel no need to bring any of that up. I would never mention it to him. It may strain the relationship. I don't want that to happen.
Q. I understand that from your perspective. I wonder if he in a quiet moment came up and said, 'I wonder if that's a heck of a putt' he hasn't?
JUSTIN LEONARD: (Shaking head negatively.)
Q. Do you think before The Ryder Cup it would be healthier if perhaps the leading players on both teams got together and talked through some issues with each other?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't necessarily see that as being a priority. I mean, I don't think sitting down in a room or eating lunch together, I don't think that will change some things. I mean, this is a competitive sport that we're in. You know, memories last a long time. There were some things happen this last Ryder Cup, and there's been things before. Don't think '99 is the first one where any kind of incident happened. You know, I think we're all grown-ups - well, at least some of us are. I'm not saying I'm grown up. I'm not putting myself in either category (laughter). But we're all gentlemen. You know, I don't think anything needs to be rehashed. I don't think we need to be sat down. I just think we need to get to the event, good sportsmanship, hope everybody plays great, and the week goes by smoothly. I expect that to happen.
Q. Would it help if the wives are outside the ropes?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't -- I don't know what that would have to do with it.
Q. Weren't they being inside the ropes, kind of added to the celebration?
JUSTIN LEONARD: I don't know. That's enough Ryder Cup stuff.
Q. On crowd behavior in general in the United States, there are certain places, Phoenix, Greensboro, where things seem to get out of hand. Is that a concern for you? Is that good? Is that a way that the game is growing, an indication of that?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, I think there's a time and place for things. You know, I think the galleries on tour have gotten more raucous on tour, since I began from '94 to now. I think people want to hear their comment. They want what they say to a player or whoever to be heard. Sometimes it's flattering; other times it's not. That's something we have to deal with. I think that some people may not realize how much we do deal with that. You know, The TOUR has done everything they can at Phoenix. You go out there to 16 this year compared to what it was three or four years ago, you wouldn't recognize the hole. You know, The TOUR, the staff, is very aware of what's going on. They listen to our comments on things. You know, they take action when they need to. I think, you know, two years ago -- I think now the galleries are much better than they were two years ago because, you know, we've realized, 'Hey, this is a problem.' At the same time, the galleries are becoming more educated. You go from having 10,000 at a tournament, all of a sudden you have 40. Those 30,000 people maybe never have been to a golf tournament. Now they've been to several tournaments. The gallery is becoming more knowledgeable. The TOUR is taking action. It's kind of becoming fun again. There for a while, there's some places, some holes, where you actually would get worried walking on the tee. Now you can have fun with it, enjoy it.
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.