POIPU – Justin Leonard has a bone to pick with the Poipu Bay Golf Course, and this year he plans on getting even.
Following a dismal showing at the his first Grand Slam appearance five years ago, the 1997 British Open champion has refurbished his swing and his professional career, finishing first in the Major Champions points this year and earning an alternate berth to the 2002 PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
Now, it’s payback time.
Leonard is looking to beat the course that defeated him mercilously in 1997. He bogeyed the first hole in the 36-hole showdown, and it was all downhill from there. His first-day 77 knocked him out of contention. He finished 16 shots behind winner Ernie Els and 11 behind third-place Love.
“When Ernie made par on the first hole (Monday), that was as big a lead as he needed on me,” he joked following the final round.
Then again, Leonard is never upset with a top 10 finish.
“Fourth place. I can put that on my resum.”
This year, Leonard is not only looking to stay in contention after the first round, he’s shooting for a Grand Slam trophy and the right to say he conquered Poipu Bay, a course that can be treacherous when swept by gusty winds.
Leonard will come armed with a refurbished swing, which has him re-established as a factor in major championships.
“I think it all started with my swing change,” said Leonard, who last year began shortening his stroke under the eye of Butch Harmon. “I was struggling too much, having too many mediocre weeks.”
Leonard will also come equipped with a new wife. The 30-year old Texan married his wife Amanda last January.
“Getting married was probably the smartest thing I’ve done,” he said.
Leonard first burst onto the golf scene when he won the 1992 U.S. Amateur and earned a PGA Tour card without a trip to Q-School. He made the 1996 Buick Open the first of his seven Tour victoriesa nd came from five strokes back to win the British Open at Troon and the 1998 Players Championship.
His most dramatic moment came at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where he rolled home a 35-foot snake on the 17th green to clinch the 1999 Ryder Cup for the United States.