Justin Leonard Set to Make KitchenAid Senior PGA Debut
It’s appropriate Justin Leonard will make his KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship debut in his native Texas.
And now that he’s turned 50, the opportunity to win his first PGA Tour Champions event near where he grew up would be incredibly special.
“It would be a lot of fun to do it close to home,” Leonard said.
Leonard, whose parents still live in Dallas and whose second daughter is heading to Southern Methodist University in the fall, turned 50 last June. He played four times on PGA Tour Champions a year ago, notching two top-20 results. This year he’s got three top-10 finishes on the over-50 circuit.
He returned to action on the PGA Tour at the AT&T Byron Nelson last year as a warm-up to the milestone birthday – his first action on Tour since 2017.
The 12-time PGA Tour winner, including the winner of The Open Championship in 1997, has spent the last half-decade or so on television. But the competitive juices are flowing again.
“It's fun. Hard to imagine that sentence three or four years ago,” Leonard admitted when he was asked how excited he was to tee it up at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, and in Texas, to boot. “But with the vision the PGA of America and moving their headquarters and this facility, it's fun. I've been looking forward to this for a couple years, and now that I've seen the golf course, I'm looking forward to it even more.
“There's moments when it feels totally familiar and second nature, and there's other times when I don't quite know what I'm doing. Hopefully more moments of that first thing that I mentioned will happen and less of the second.”
Fields Ranch East will be on display for the first time as the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is the first of 25 scheduled PGA of America championships on the new, Gil Hanse-designed layout. Leonard said he’s had plenty of learnings over the first few days on property, with more to come. There are a few blind shots, he said, but the more he plays the course and understands what is down the fairway or up by the green, it’ll be easier to get comfortable.
“I think just getting comfortable with those aspects is the biggest thing of trying to get ready to contend this week,” Leonard said. “I think at the end of the round is when you'll see kind of more fireworks.”
Leonard had plenty of his own fireworks-producing moments through the late 1990s on the PGA Tour, but none more than Tiger Woods, whose sons teed it up against each other at a junior club championship in Florida recently.
Leonard said his son, Luke, goes to the same school as Charlie Woods although at different campuses. Woods and Leonard (the older ones) walked-and-talked for nine holes and then there was a moment Leonard recognized intimately.
“There was a shot that Charlie hit into (a par five) this beautiful high soft cut. A 3-hybrid or something. Landed on the green and it stopped dead. There might have been a little bit of a club twirl at the end of it,” Leonard said, “and I walked by Tiger, I go, ‘OK, a lot of that looked very familiar’ and we both had a good chuckle.”
While Leonard enjoyed reminiscing about old times with an old foe, he’s back competing against some of the best in the world this week at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
And a win in his native Texas would be as special as any in his career.
“I’m looking forward to my first win, wherever it is. But if I could pick one, it would probably be here – and that’s the last time I’m going to be thinking about winning for the rest of the week,” Leonard said with a laugh.