First-time U.S. Senior Open participant Leonard will ‘grasp on everything’ this week
By Jacob Heid
STEVENS POINT – Justin Leonard is coming off a course-record 62 in the American Family Insurance Championship opening round in Madison a few weeks back.
This week, he faces a much different task by trying to tackle his first U.S. Senior Open championship.
Beginner’s luck is something this tournament’s seen, having the last three winners (Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker) were first-time participants.
“I didn’t know that, but I’m going to grasp on everything I can,” Leonard said as he addressed the media Wednesday.
The common denominator for most players this week is keeping the ball in play.
That plays right into Leonard’s strength as a player.
“I’m pretty good at hitting fairways. I think that’s going to be very important this week,” he explained. “I’m a little bit more of a cerebral strategy guy. I’m not going to overpower anything. There’s some chances guys can take and overpower a little bit, but I think there’s plenty of room for a guy like me, who hits it more just kind of average length, to kind of grind it out on a golf course like this. You’re going to pay a pretty good penalty being in the rough around this place.”
Leonard enjoys the layout of the course but highlights some of the holes that will force players to make a decision off the tee.
“I think the fourth hole, whether to lay back of the bunker or kind of take it on, and then 13 with a bunker there in the middle of the fairway,” he stated. I think you’ll see guys do some different things on those two holes.”
He will also lean on some things that he learned when he was reporting from inside the ropes as a broadcaster.
“The guys that tend to stay up near the top throughout the week don’t make a lot of big mistakes, they’ll make some little ones,” Leonard stated. “Then letting go and moving past those things, that kind of thing.”
The first-timer tees off his first round on Thursday, Jun. 29, in the morning wave.
Leonard is paired with Ernie Els and Tom Lehman at 8:13 a.m. off hole No. 10.