Justin Talks Return to Competition, Staying Fit, and Scottie Scheffler’s Rise
In addition to being part of the GolfForever team since its inception, Justin Leonard is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, including the 1997 Open Championship and the 1998 PLAYERS Championship. Most notably, many remember Justin as the hero of the triumphant 1999 United States Ryder Cup team, having drilled the deciding 45-foot putt to secure the Cup.
A seasoned veteran, he still admitted to feeling a little like a wide-eyed rookie at his recent PGA Tour Champions debut. Leonard turned 50 back in late June and has since decided to split time between his NBC/Golf Channel duties and playing in PGA Tour Champions events. We caught up with him when he was in transit in July to the 150th Open Championship at The Old Course at St. Andrews to talk about his plans, his crucial workouts and experience with the GolfForever Swing Trainer, and his thoughts on the state of the game today.
Q. What was it like being back in competition Champions at the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship?
Justin Leonard. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the whole week. There were a lot of unknowns about where my game would shake out. The first couple of days, it looked like I hadn't played in about five years. I hadn't had any competition other than (playing in the) the AT&T Byron Nelson, but I really kind of settled down and hit the ball much better and played much better on the weekend. I saw enough good things to be encouraged.
Q. Do you now have sort of a deeper appreciation for the era in which you played your PGA Tour career? There's such an intersection of different eras of great talent and the Champions environment lets such a great contrast of players shine.
JL. Just getting to see a lot of familiar faces – guys that I played against in my PGA Tour career and a lot of great friends that I've missed seeing and competing against was great. It was fun and I felt very welcomed.
Q. In terms of your physical fitness, how did you feel being back inside the ropes now versus how you felt later in your PGA Tour playing career? How much of that can be attributed to GolfForever?
JL. Physically, I felt good. The swing was a little off the first couple of days - I think that's just from a lack of playing in tournaments and some nerves. I did notice that I was hitting the ball farther than even six or seven years ago. I fully attribute that to the consistent work I've put in with the GolfForever Swing Trainer over the last nine months.
It was noticeable enough I had to recalibrate my yardage. My irons were going an extra five to eight yards, which was really fun. And higher, too – I launched a couple of moonshots over trees that I would never have considered years ago. To continue that, I use the Swing Trainer every morning to get loose pre-round paired with stretching. I'm looking forward to really busting on it these next couple of months before my next event and continuing to recalibrate with my yardages.
Q. What's the pre-round warmup you do before every round that most average recreational players should strongly consider doing themselves?
JL. I like to start with 10 to 15 minutes on a cardio machine to get the blood flowing, which wakes up your senses. And then do some specific stretches for the back, hips, and shoulders. With the Swing Trainer, I do some rotational exercises with quicker movement. But, make sure to do it all very deeply in both directions. It takes about 20 or 25 minutes, and you’ll feel like walking out of that little gym time that you could step right up to the first tee and hit a driver. I still go to the range first, warm up, and go through that process though. However, I do seem to get up to speed much quicker by doing just that little bit of a warm-up.
Q. What do you think you'll need to do to be competitive in Champion’s Tour events?
JL. I think just getting reps in. Every round of competition is an opportunity for me to learn and get better. By playing these tournaments this year, I'm just looking at this as a time to really evaluate my game, see what works and what doesn't, and understand the things that I need to work on to be more competitive in the future.
Q. What does having your name on the PLAYERS Championship trophy say about you as a player and your ability to rise to the occasion in monumental moments?
JL. It was special to make my debut at the SENIOR PLAYERS, which is obviously their version for the PGA TOUR Champions. It’s what the PLAYERS is for the regular tour, on a very demanding golf course – as is TPC Sawgrass. To have been able to achieve that during my regular tour career is something I take pride and satisfaction in. Hopefully, I'll be able to get one done somewhere along the way on the PGA TOUR Champions.
Q. GolfForever ambassador Scottie Scheffler got on a similar heater in 2022 to the one you experienced in the mid-to-late 90s. What do you like about his game and what advice would you give him about having success over an extended timeframe?
JL. Well, first of all, he's on a way better run than I ever experienced. But, it's fun to watch. I've known him since he was a kid growing up at Royal Oaks, and I think the way he plays the game, and balances the power and the creativity within his game, is what’s going to help him maintain a level of greatness and longevity that’s hard to come by.