After moving out of Aspen after 7 years, Justin Leonard set for PGA Tour Champions debut; changes for 2024 BMW Championship that’s coming to Castle Pines
By Gary Baines – 7/5/2022
Some Colorado-oriented golf notes as the second half of 2022 dawns:
— Justin Leonard’s Twitter handle situation can tell you quite a bit regarding the changes taking place in his life. Until relatively recently, he went by @jlmountainman on Twitter. Now, it’s @JLeonardgolf
Leonard — a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, including at the 1997 British Open — had been living in Aspen since 2015 as his competitive golf became less a priority in his mid- and late-40s.
But Leonard, who turned 50 on June 15, is now set to make his PGA Tour Champions debut, with tournament No. 1 being the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, which runs Thursday through Sunday in Akron, Ohio. So with a return to playing tour golf — at least part-time for now — came a change in residence.
According to a recent email reply from Leonard to Colorado Golf Journal, “We moved to Florida (in late June), and will be here full-time. We sold our Aspen home a while back.”
So Leonard is no longer a mountain man, but a flat-lander spending considerably more time on his golf game.
Prior to teeing it up in May at the AT&T Byron Nelson (72-71, missed cut), Leonard last competed in a PGA Tour event at the 2017 Valero Texas Open. Before that, it was the 2016 Wyndham Championship.
“I’ve enjoyed getting back into the game,” Leonard recently told Golf Digest. “This last year and a half, I’ve gotten more into it with the possibility that I’d play senior golf and also playing more with my boys. It’s been fun to get out and work and get into familiar work habits and thoughts about the game. I’m very curious about how that translates. I’m not expecting immediate success, but I am looking forward to it, and I hope to see enough good things in the few events that I play to find some things to build on.”
Though Leonard is no longer an Aspen resident, he believes his time Colorado paid dividends.
“I feel in better shape than I did five, 10 or even 15 years ago,” he said to Golf Digest. “I think part of that is from my time living in the mountains and how (wife) Amanda and I approached things, the slower pace, the exercise we got. But doing those golf-specific movements and workouts required for the golf swing, I think I have come out ahead of where I would have been if I’d been doing more normal routines. It will be fun to see how I put that to use on a golf course when it counts.”
Leonard will continue to do some broadcast work for PGA Tour events on NBC and Golf Channel, with a smattering of such working weeks left this year, including the British Open next week at St. Andrews in Scotland. And he’ll sprinkle in PGA Tour Champions tournaments as he sees fit.
“It’s going to be a fun change,” he said. “Amanda is from Florida, and she has family down there, and it will make travel easier. And the weather … you know, the boys can play more golf. And so can I. Yeah, I’m going to need to have warm weather.”
— Tweaks for BMW Championship that’s Coming to Colorado in 2024: It’s been less than two months since it was officially announced that the 2024 BMW Championship will be coming to Castle Pines Golf Club, marking the first PGA Tour event in Colorado since 2014.
But much has transpired in those two months — due to competition from LIV Golf and other reasons — and it’s worth noting how things will change for the BMW Championship that’s coming to Colorado.
— When the Castle Pines announcement was made, the BMW Championship was one of three FedExCup Playoff events, and its field numbered 70. The plan moving forward — starting in 2024 — is for the BMW to continue to be the second of three playoff events, but its starting field will be down to 50. The top 30 in the FedExCup standings after the BMW will advance to the Tour Championship. Overall, 70 players will qualify for the opening event of the playoffs, down from 125.
And, the purse for the BMW Championship — along with the FedEx St. Jude Championship — will jump to $20 million from the current $15 million.
— Notable: It went by with little notice, but a coach of some note is leaving the local college golf scene after a very long run. Brent Franklin, who was won the 1988 Canadian PGA Championship and was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 2010, retired after being associate head coach of the University of Colorado’s women’s team, where Anne Kelly leads the program. Franklin had been an assistant at CU for 20 years, starting as a volunteer coach. “It was an honor and pleasure to work with Brent for so many years,” Kelly said. “He had an incredibly positive impact on our golf program. His loyalty to this program and me was much appreciated. His skills as a golf instructor and coach are amazing and will be missed.” Franklin is married to one of the best women’s senior amateurs in the state (Kris) and is father to an up-and-coming college golfer (Walker, at the University of Louisville). Madeleine Sheils, previously an assistant coach at Stanford, will take over Franklin’s spot on the CU women’s golf staff. …
In a recent story about being named the “Sexiest Woman Alive” by Maxim, former Coloradan Paige Spiranac recounted how the fallout from winning the 2015 Colorado Women’s Golf Association Match Play Championship led to her becoming the social-media sensation she is today. A post in the wake of the event — which focused on her golf game and her looks — that went viral, “That’s what started my entire career. I went from having 500 followers to having 100,000 followers overnight. My life completely changed in the blink of an eye.” …
Two days after Colorado Golf Hall of Famers Janet Moore and Christie Austin — along with fellow Coloradans Marilyn Hardy, Deb Pearson and Laurie Steenrod — qualified in the state for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, another Hall of Famer, Kim Eaton, followed suit. Eaton made the qualifying grade in her now-home state, Arizona, beating Cindy Pallatino in a playoff for the final available berth. Eaton is a four-time quarterfinalist in the national championship. This year’s event, which marks the first USGA championship ever held in Alaska, is set for July 30-Aug. 4 in Anchorage.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)