2001 Texas Open: Texan Leonard Returns To Defend His Title

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- When Justin Leonard, one of Texas' favorite golf sons, won the 2000 Texas Open at the La Cantera Golf Resort, it was the essence of a popular victory.

Texans love nothing more than to root for Texas-born golfers.

It was also a big relief for Leonard, the Dallas native, who was slumping. The Texas Open victory was Leonard's first since the 1998 Players Championship after registering three earlier wins in his career -- the 1996 Buick Open, 1997 Kemper Open and his only major -- The British Open Championship in 1998.

Entering the fourth round with a two-stroke lead over Denver's Mark Wiebe, Leonard clicked for seven birdies and one bogey to finish with a 19-under total of 261.

He also earned $468,000 with the win, the first in his home state.

The historic Texas Open returns for its 78th edition September 24-30 at the La Cantera Resort. You can bet Leonard will be there to defend his title. The Texas Open is the fourth longest running golf competition in the U.S. And since Leonard played his college golf only 70 miles up I-35 in Austin at the University of Texas, he will always draw a
large gallery in this tournament.

"Winning was a big relief," said Leonard, now 29. "I don't read a lot of golf magazines. I don't watch a lot of golf on television. But I know that I haven't won in two and a half years," he said. "It's nice. It's like a little burden lifted, not that I went out every week thinking about it."

Leonard had twice finished second at the Westin Texas Open, in 1995 and 1998 and he skipped the tournament last year for the Ryder Cup. At the 1998 Westin Texas Open, Leonard bogeyed the final two holes to fall to Hal Sutton by one stroke.

"I just wasn't able to close the deal here back in 1998," he said. "In 2000, I was very determined not to let that happen. If I was going to get beaten, then somebody was going to have to beat me. But I wasn't going to beat myself."

Determined is a word to describe Leonard his whole life. As a teen-ager attending Lake Highlands High School in the Richardson school district, he developed his skills at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas.

From the start his encourages, fellow golfers and admirers recognized his ability to think around the golf course would lead him to possible PGA Tour greatness. In high school he was recognized as the best in the state, winning two Class 5A state medalist titles. Golf Digest ranked him No. 2 junior in the nation.

"Justin is one of the best course managers I've ever seen," said Steve Metzger, a Dallas attorney and frequent playing partner at Royal Oaks, of a 17-year-old Leonard. "It's like in pool, where you plan where you're going to leave the cue ball for your next shot. Justin always leaves himself set up for a good shot. As a result, he's always going to be hanging around the magic number of par."

In one amateur tournament before college he won the Big I Insurance Classic in Texarkana by seven shots and was paired with 1981 PGA Player of the Year, Bill Rogers, now Director of Golf in San Antonio at the new private club being constructed at Briggs Ranch.

"He was very impressive and not just because of his golf swing," Rogers said after that tournament. "Justin has that look in his eyes. If pro golf is what he want down the road, he could have the whole world in front of him."

Leonard has always been impressive off the course to. He's a Southern gentleman, as they say in the south or even the Lone Star State. He's so polite he once wrote a thank you note to someone who had written him a thank you note for an autograph.

And he's always been a family man. Leonard's mother handles his travel arrangements, his father handles his finances and his sister acts as public relations manager.

"When Justin was growing up on the golf course at Royal Oaks every adult on the staff had our permission to discipline him," said his father, Dr. Larry Leonard, a biochemist. No doubt he never acted up enough to get disciplined.

Sometimes known as a "neat freak", there is something that gets under Leonard's perfectly groomed skin -- using the word "golf" as a verb. "You don't 'golf' and you don't go 'golfing'," he said. "One plays golf."

His fans hope he makes it two in a row this year in San Antonio.

Leonard's Career Highlights

Won first major championship at 1997 British Open. After opening with 67 in blustery conditions at Royal Troon, trailed Jim Furyk and Darren Clarke by two strokes. Remained two back after second-round 66, but fell five behind Jesper Parnevik after three rounds. Closing 65 was only round in 60s by a player who began round under par. Won by three strokes over Parnevik and Clarke. At age 25, was youngest British Open champion since Seve Ballesteros won in 1979 at 22.

Nearly earned second major title at PGA Championship. Shared third-round lead with Davis Love III after course-record 65 and stood seven strokes in front of next-closest rival. Closing 71 left him alone in second, five strokes behind Love...In 1999 didn't record a victory for first time in three years, but was still among the top-10 of money list for third consecutive year...Posted seven top-10 finishes including his first three starts...Nearly won his second British Open in July. Rounds of 73-74-71-72 produced three-way tie with Paul Lawrie and Jean Van de Velde. Lawrie won playoff by birdieing last two playoff holes.

His 45-foot putt on 17th hole of The Country Club during Sunday singles match with Jose Maria Olazabal earned decisive half-point that regained Ryder Cup for U.S. Won four consecutive holes (12-15) to square match and set up his 17th-hole heroics. His 1999 Ryder Cup record was 0-1-3.

The Texas Open

DATE: Texas Open at La Cantera Tournament, September 24-30, 2001.

TOURNAMENT FORMAT: 72 Hole, Four-Day Official PGA Tour Event Thursday, September 27 -- Sunday, September 30, 156 PGA
Tour Professionals.

COURSE FACTS: La Cantera Golf Club 6,889 Yards, Par 70, Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish Opened in 1995.

PRO-AM EVENTS: MasterCard Invitational Pro-Am -- "A Drive for the First Tee of San Antonio" Monday, September 24. Diamond Shamrock/Pepsi Charity Challenge Pro-Am Wednesday, September 26.

SPECIALTY EVENTS: Check www.golfsanantonio.org for the latest news.

PURSE: $3,000,000. $540,000 Winners Share.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Justin Leonard, 2000.
RECENT CHAMPIONS: Duffy Waldorf 1995 & 1999, Hal Sutton 1998, Tim Herron 1997, David Ogrin 1996.

Tickets:Grounds Admission Packages. The Texas Open at La Cantera has a sponsorship option to fit any company's budget, weather large or small. The Grounds Admission Packages are ideal for small companies to entertain guests or to give employees as a show of appreciation. All size sponsorships are important in the overall goal to raise money for San Antonio Children's Charities. Gallery pack $100. Contact Golf San Antonio 2929 Mossrock Suite 117 San Antonio, TX 78230 Main Phone: 210-341-0823 Fax: 210-340-1625.

You can also call TicketMaster at 877-280-7145 or visit select TicketMaster outlets or H-E-B locations in and around San Antonio.

La Cantera is located just northwest of the intersection Interstate 10 West and Loop 1604. The course and resort are accessible from either one of these main highways via the La Cantera Parkway exit.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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