PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. | Maybe this mountain thing suits Justin Leonard.
He’s got the beard. He’s let his hair grow. He skis five days a week when he’s at his new home in Aspen, Colo.
And two days into the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, Leonard is tied for seventh after rounds of 67-69, four behind 36-hole leader Jason Kokrak.
Not bad for a 43-year old who had to rely on a one-time career money list exemption to play the 10 or 12 events he has scheduled this year. Only 14 players have won more money in their PGA Tour careers than Leonard (more than $33 million) and he’s reached the point that he can pick his spots.
Riviera wouldn’t figure to be one of Leonard’s spots because he’s short by today’s standards and Riviera is a big ballpark. But he played well in the 1995 PGA Championship and hasn’t forgotten it.
“I’ve just been waiting to get back on that roll I had in ’95. So maybe it just takes 21 years,” said Leonard, who won the last of his 12 Tour titles in 2008.
Twenty-one years. Jordan Spieth had just learned to walk.
Leonard is still serious about golf but perhaps not the way he once was. He went 35 days this winter without hitting a shot. He did golf-specific exercises but it wasn’t until mid-January that Leonard got back to the business of grinding.
“My work, when I’m not here at a golf tournament, is simply in the gym,” said Leonard, who moved with his family from Dallas to Aspen late last year. “I don’t have a place to hit balls. I take my clubs out of the travel cover to make sure nothing’s broken, and then they sit in the corner until I pack them up again.”
When Leonard met with his sports psychologist, he asked for a frank assessment of what he needed to do.
“It was funny, she told me I needed to work harder and practice more and put the time in. So I moved to Colorado so that I can’t practice,” he said. “My conscience is clear, because it’s just not possible.”