What’s it like for Justin Leonard to return to The Country Club? ‘It all feels very familiar.’
BROOKLINE, Mass. — Golf fans know the scene well.
It’s September of 1999 in suburban Boston. Justin Leonard, decked out in an oversized (and unsightly) Team USA polo, stands on the 17th green. He’s fought back from four down with seven to play and has tied his match with Jose Maria Olazabal. Both men face lengthy birdie putts — Leonard 40 feet from the cup, and Olzabal about 15 feet closer.
If Leonard hangs on and earns a half point, the U.S. team will win the Cup, completing an improbable Sunday comeback. All eyes are on this match.
The American reads his putt with steely eyes tucked underneath the brim of his tan cap. Leonard is winless in six career Ryder Cup matches, but all he needs is a tie to become a golf legend. As he prepares to draw the putter back, he has one thought in his mind.
“Make sure you get it up the hill,” Leonard recalls. “I didn’t want it to roll back to my feet.”
The rest is history. The putt rolled into the center of the cup — with plenty of pace — and Leonard cemented his place in Ryder Cup lore.
Twenty-three years later, the now-50-year-old is back at The Country Club for just the second time since that fateful fall day — and he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“It’s fun,” Leonard told GOLF.com. “It really is. The feel is the same. It’s changed a little bit — certainly the routing is a little different — but it all feels very familiar.”
The swoons from the galleries are familiar, too. Although Leonard hears seemingly daily from fans in regard to his Ryder Cup-clinching putt, returning to The Country Club only amplifies it.
“People tell me where they were, who they watched it with, those sorts of things,” he said. “It’s been fun to relive everything.”
This time around, though, Leonard won’t be the one authoring history. Instead, he’ll be covering it as a member of Golf Channel’s Live From broadcast team. There may be no better man for the job of analyst at The Country Club than Leonard.
Not only does Leonard have personal experience around the course, but as a student of the game, he’s also well-versed in its history — and that history runs deep.
From Francis Ouimet’s improbable victory in 1913 to Matthew Fitzpatrick’s triumph at the U.S. Amateur in 2013, these fairways have some tales to tell. Leonard intends to to do his best to weave that historic context with the storylines that develop this week.
“A lot of our viewers may have seen ’99, they may remember the [U.S.] Open in ’88, but it’s been a while,” Leonard said. “There’s a great history here and I’m sure there will be some more added to it this week.”
Whether or not that history can stack up to Leonard’s Ryder Cup moment remains to be seen.