1997 Open Champion Justin Leonard makes his PNC Father/Son Challenge debut in 2017 as the first competitor to play alongside his father. Leonard, who was part of the NBC/Golf Channel broadcast team at last year’s event, will tee it up alongside his father, Larry.
You’re one of the first competitors to play with your father in the 20 year history of the PNC Father/Son Challenge. How did you find out about the invitation to play?
Well, Molly Solomon (Executive Producer, Golf Channel) brought it up to me at the Presidents Cup. I was planning to work the Father/Son for NBC and I certainly wasn’t expecting to be invited. She gave me the option to play or commentate. I ran it by my dad and he didn’t hesitate to say yes. I thought he might worry about playing in front of people, but he was excited.
Have you and your dad begun strategizing?
We played the AT&T (Pebble Beach Pro-Am) together, so we’ve had the chance to do it, but to do it again in such a fun format is great. When we played together in California, he was trying to stay out of the way. At this point in my career, it’s all about having fun and taking in the experience. It will be a different feel than a few years ago and one that we’re both going to relish.
Can you put yourself in your dad’s shoes, playing next to his son who has achieved great things in the game?
I have four young kids and I go to plenty of soccer and lacrosse along the way. I have an idea of the pride that I have for my kids, watching how they interact with teammates and the things they go through. I have an idea, but I don’t know that I can fully comprehend it. Playing on the professional stage is certainly different than an Under-12 soccer team. I owe so much to both of my parents for the opportunities they gave me to play. In junior golf, there was travel involved and long days. To be able to share an experience like this with him, knowing that he had an integral part in my development, will make it special.
What have been your impressions of the Father/Son, having covered it for Golf Channel?
I witnessed it a little last year via NBC. I spoke to David Duval and I asked him what he thought. He said without hesitation, “you gotta do it. It’s one of those experiences that you’ll never forget.”
Do you have a favorite golf memory with your dad?
We have played some pretty special places together. For his 75th birthday, we went to Sand Hills in Nebraska just the two of us. Flew up there and spent the night. This summer, we played Cypress Point together. When I was playing fulltime, I was focused on practicing. It was work for me and so I didn’t play casual golf. My dad might watch me practice here and there or I might watch him hit balls, but we didn’t play much. The last couple years, we’ve started to enjoy it together. This will be another experience that we’ll have together that we can talk about for years and years.
What is the state of your dad’s game?
He plays a lot. He’s a member at Northwood CC in Dallas. I think he’s around a 12 handicap. He played good in August in California. I’m expecting big things from him (laughing).
And what about your game?
I have not touched a golf club since early September for no other reason than I’m doing some television, and then when I’m home I’d rather bike, hike and do other things. It’ll be fun to get into a bit, but it’ll also be fun to know it’s no longer my livelihood. That will make it more enjoyable for me because I’m not preparing for January. I’m just making memories.
A lot of the guys treat the Father/Son like a holiday vacation – will you bring the family?
My wife’s family lives in South Florida, so we were planning to spend the following week down there anyway. My wife and kids will come in on Saturday afternoon so they’ll get to see us play on Sunday. And my mom will definitely be there.