Tough Texan

By Rich LernerMay 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
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SAN ANTONIO ' This week Justin Leonard will try to become the first to ever win the Valero Texas Open, which dates back to 1922, four times (Arnold Palmer won three). Born and raised in Dallas, Leonard starred at the University of Texas. He won a U.S. Amateur, a British Open and a Players early in his career. He made one of the most famous putts in golf history, the cross-country strike that sent the Americans racing onto the green at Brookline in the 1999 Ryder Cup. In the last two years he emerged from a slump and again played an integral role on a winning Ryder Cup team, last year at Valhalla. Rich Lerner caught up with the tough Texan on Wednesday at La Cantera:
Rich: Why have you had so much success here at the Valero Texas Open?
Justin: I think its the golf course. And its also a very relaxed atmosphere. Its not too far from home, which is nice. Its a golf course where the longest player really doesnt have an advantage. It can be windy. You have to control where your ball ends up and those are things that I tend to do pretty well.
Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard may be most remembered for this putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup. (Getty Images)
Rich: Whats your most memorable moment in golf?
Justin: Somewhere between the '99 Ryder Cup and the '08 Ryder Cup, you know making the comeback and being a part of that afternoon Sunday in Boston was a feeling I dont think Ill ever feel again in the game. But the whole week-long experience last fall when I hadnt played in nine years and having a family and having a faith, I enjoyed the week more as a whole and to be able to win the Cup back after it had been nine years was something very special.
Rich: Interesting, you dont mention of the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Justin: I have a hard time remembering that long ago (laughs).
Rich: Youre not that old.
Justin: I mean that was very personal and totally an individual achievement outside of my very small circle. At the Ryder Cup you get to celebrate with peers, friends and family. Its a bigger collection of people trying to accomplish the same goal. Being able to share that with some great friends on Tour, wives and captains makes those moments seem a little bigger than the individual achievements.
Rich: It came relatively easy to you as a young pro with the Open Championship and a Players Championship. What was crossroads moment where you lost your way psychologically, spiritually and emotionally?
Justin: I struggled quite a bit with my game in 2006. I started out 07 missing five cuts in a row and I felt really lost. Interesting, though, through that whole process my life off the golf course really flourished. My family, my relationship with my wife, my faith because going through all of that gave me even more perspective in terms of whats really important to me. Was I going to let my career dictate my attitude away from the golf course? So I was really able to separate the two. Now, there were some pretty disappointing Friday nights. But I learned so much from that experience. And then I made some changes like going back to Randy Smith, whom I grew up working with and with whom Id shared a lot success and wonderful memories from early in my career. Getting a fresh perspective from the sports psychologist Dick Coop helped as did bringing Brian Smith on as a caddie, as well as a good attitude that maybe had been missing. That and a lot of hard work, combined with the perspective Id gained through my struggles, all helped me get back. I won here in San Antonio in the fall of 07 and then came out and played very well in 08. That got me thinking about playing on a Ryder Cup team. So while its never fun to go through those tough periods I realize its necessary sometimes as humans, as fathers and husbands in order to grow as individuals and learn more about ourselves.
Rich: How often did you hear, seven or eight years ago. that you needed to get longer in order to compete with all the bombers that were proliferating on Tour?
Justin: Not only did I hear that but I was telling myself those things ' technically I need to get better, I need to hit the ball farther and higher. I got away from doing the things that I had learned and that I had had success with early on. After struggling in 06, I looked at guys like David Toms and Jim Furyk and they became inspirations for me because theyre not the longest hitters. Theyre obviously great competitors and great putters. They play their game. When they play their game it works on any golf course. Sure on some courses they may be at a slight disadvantage because of their lack of distance, but they stay with their games. So I really looked at those two guys as a map for me. Work on my weaknesses, certainly, but play my game.
Rich: When youre in sync, what aspect of the game do you perform better than most?
Justin: Grit. And thats such an intangible. I feel like when Im on my game I can compete with the best players in the world, maybe not for weeks or months at a time, but when my game is on I feel like I have a chance to win the golf tournament. I think one thing you really cant calculate is determination that I learned competing in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.
Rich: What about the tangible parts of your game?
Justin: I give myself a lot of opportunities and stay out of trouble. I really try to wear a golf course down. Im not going to overpower it but if I can keep giving myself opportunities without a lot of stress during the round, I feel like by the end of the day Im going to get what I need to out of it.
Rich: I go back to Troon (site of the 1997 Open Championship) and think its hard to roll the ball much better than you did there.
Justin: When I have confidence putting the ball I tend to make a few putts. I enjoy that part of the game very much.
Rich: What are your goals for 2009?
Justin: Early in my career I set a lot of results-oriented goals, like getting in contention and winning a major. This year Id like to make the Presidents Cup team just because, as I said, its a great week to spend with friends and their wives and its a great atmosphere. I want to be ready to play every week and right now Im in the middle of a four-week stretch. That incorporates a lot like managing my practice time, making sure I stay fresh and then beyond that I want to give myself chances to win golf tournaments.
Rich: I remember thinking when you won at Troon that we were watching the next Gary Player. Maybe it was the stature combined with the grip. But the technology explosion put such an emphasis on distance.
Justin: Thats too lofty for me. Ive certainly been helped by technology. I do think it would be fun to play a tournament with persimmon woods and blade irons and the old golf ball.
Rich: You played persimmon?
Justin: I did. I played persimmon until 1997. It was an old Cleveland Classic. Id changed the insert on it.
Rich: You went to the University of Texas but you dont shout about it.
Justin: Im kind of low-key about most things. Im certainly not DiMarco-ish (editor's note: Chris DiMarco attended the University of Florida) when it comes to supporting a school. But I tune in as much as I can. I get a lot of support down here this week and thats fun. Its funny, when I first came on Tour people would say, Hey Justin, hook em, as in hook em Horns. For a while that bothered me because I kept thinking, Why are you telling me to hook it out here on the golf course! After a couple years I got over it.
Rich: Are you pure Texas ' country music and a pickup truck?
Justin: No, Ive never owned a pickup truck but I do own a great pair of cowboy boots that I love to wear. Im not really into country music either. Growing up in Dallas Im kind of citified Texan, if you will.
Rich: What kind of music do you like?
Justin: Im still into some of my college music, 90s alternative. Im into some newer bands too. Id love to go see the Foo Fighters. Ive never seen them live. Right out of school I saw Smashing Pumpkins at a very small venue. That was great. I really enjoyed Elliot Smith, though he was a pretty dark artist and his music kind of portrayed that. I was flipping through some our downloaded music a couple nights ago and came across Tragically Hip. So I like bands that I picked up in college or right out of college and still go back to today. I wish more artists would make music like that today.
Rich: I know Texans are particular about their barbecue. You have a favorite?
Justin: Salt Lick is very good. County Line is very good. But honestly, the best brisket comes out of my moms kitchen. Shed put together a barbecue and Id invite guys over during the Byron (Nelson Championship) and I think she had to make a few copies of her recipe for my buddies. Its pretty incredible.
Rich: If you werent playing golf what would you love to do?
Justin: I thought about majoring in architecture, but by the end of four years I would have been about a 12 handicap. I stayed in the Business school. But Ive always had an interest in architecture and theres a creative process there that intrigues me.
Rich: Based on the way you play golf ' strategic, precise ' you probably would have done well in architecture.
Justin: Yeah, I enjoy that process.
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    Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

    SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

    Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

    ''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

    Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

    The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

    Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.

    Full-field scores from the American Century Championship

    ''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

    Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

    Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

    Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

    Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

    The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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    Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

    HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

    Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

    Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

    Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

    Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

    The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

    His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

    McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

    He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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    Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

    By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

    Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

    It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

    The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

    The week was more than nostalgic. 

    It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

    In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

    “I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

    Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

    “It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

    Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

    The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

    “It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

    Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

    “Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

    She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

    “Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

    At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

    With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

    This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

    “A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

    Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

    “It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

    In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

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    Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

    By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

    SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura's main focus going into the Marathon Classic was trying to put together four solid rounds that would help her keep her LPGA card.

    She doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

    Suwannapura picked up her first win on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at Highland Meadows.

    In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

    ''I never expect it was going to be today at all. I've just been struggling the whole year,'' said Suwannapura, whose previous best finish was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship. ''Finally all my work I've been doing has come out and shown up today. After I knocked that last putt in, it just felt like a dream come true.''

    With the win, the 25-year-old Thai player has an exemption through the 2020 season. She is also the sixth first-time winner on tour this year

    Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 14-under 270. She then had to wait for the final seven groups to finish.

    ''I did not think or expect that 14 would be good enough, because I know there were two par 5s coming in on 17 and 18, and it's a good opportunity for players to make birdie,'' Suwannapura said. ''I was just chilling in the clubhouse, you know, being silly and stuff, trying to relax, and see what they're doing. Now, like, 'Oh, I have to go warm up and try to win the tournament.'''

    Full-field scores from the Marathon Classic

    Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out.

    Despite having eight career victories, including this season's opener in the Bahamas, the 32-year-old Lincicome said she was extremely nervous standing over that putt.

    ''I was shaking so bad. I had to take so many deep breaths. So it's kind of cool to have those nerves, but learning how to play through them after 12 years of being a pro ... 14 years of being a pro, I still haven't figured it out, so that's a little disappointing,'' she said. ''(The putt) caught a lot of the hole, so I feel like I hit a pretty good putt for how nervous I was. I really haven't seen one that aggressive in a long time, so that was just unfortunate, really.''

    Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. She will become the first woman since 2004 to play in a PGA Tour event.

    Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

    ''Sometimes golf is weird. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and that was kind of me the last four holes,'' said Henderson, who lost for only the second time in six occasions she has led after 54 holes.

    Besides the tour exemption, Suwannapura's win came with another bonus. She was one of five players to earn a spot in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

    The top five players not already exempt earned spots. The other qualifiers were Daniela Darquea, Celine Herbin, Mina Harigae and Mel Reid.