For Janzen, ebb and flow

Golf: Career consistency hasn't been a strong point for the defending U.S. Open champion, so a victory at Pinehurst would be particularly sweet.

June 15, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He has won one more major championship than Tiger Woods and two more than David Duval. He has won twice as many PGA Tour events as Tom Lehman and John Daly. But few know much about Lee Janzen.

This is the one week when Janzen will find himself in that sometimes uncomfortable territory called the spotlight. It happens when you are defending champion at the 99th U.S. Open, which will begin Thursday in Pinehurst, N.C.

Janzen, 34, could turn out to be the Hale Irwin of his generation -- a solid player, but never a star. Irwin won three Opens among his 20 regular tour titles in a 26-year career.

But Janzen has some catching up to do: He has won two Opens and six other titles in 10 years.

Even he has tried to put his career into perspective.

"Why do I rise to the occasion when I do, where I do?" Janzen said during last month's Kemper Open. "Sure, I'd like to have won more tournaments. But maybe I should be grateful that I won the two [at the Open]."

His victory in the 1993 Open at Baltusrol changed Janzen's reputation from a faceless two-time winner to a burgeoning star with substance, if not style. His victory last year at the Olympic Club was more important.

It came after a nearly three-year winless drought and came as his career had seemingly plateaued. He had fallen from third on the money list in 1995, when he won The Players Championship and two other events, to 31st, 24th and 20th in earnings.

"I enjoyed it more last year." Janzen said of his one-shot victory over Payne Stewart, whom he defeated by two shots in his first Open win. "There were a lot of reasons, but not having won for a couple of years certainly added to it."

One of those reasons was his son, Connor, who will turn 6 in October.

Janzen doesn't like to use being a father as an excuse for not winning, but he wouldn't be the first player whose career had stalled intrying to balance those two often conflicting aspects of one's life.

But as Janzen said: "I think Jack [Nicklaus] proved you can do both. I know that I probably didn't practice as much right after Connor was born, but he's to the point now where he's getting some independence. I wouldn't trade one day of it."

In truth, Janzen has been something of an overachiever, considering his less-than-pedigreed background.

Moving three times in a little more than a decade, the family spent six years in Westminster before relocating to Lakeland, Fla. A baseball player in Maryland from ages 6 through 12, he became a golfer in Florida.

"Here, baseball season's over when school's out," Nancy Janzen said last week from Lakeland, where she and her husband, Larry, still live. "He had to find something else to do."

Said Janzen: "In Maryland, all we did was play baseball in my neighborhood. In Florida, all my friends were playing golf. We could play all day for 50 cents."

Janzen became a good enough golfer to win his first local tournament at 15 in Tampa and was later offered a scholarship at nearby Florida Southern. There, he won the NCAA Division II championship as a senior in 1986, teaming with future fellow tour pro Rocco Mediate.

After playing the mini-tours in Florida for a couple of years -- he was the leading money-winner on something called the U.S. Golf Tour in 1989 -- Janzen qualified for the PGA Tour in 1990. He barely kept his card that year -- finishing 115th among the 125 to stay exempt.

He improved to 72nd in 1991, but the breakthrough came when he won the Northern Telecom Open in 1992. He backed it up with five other Top 10 finishes, including two seconds, and wound up ninth on the money list in '92 with $795,279.

He was seventh the next year, including the win at Baltusrol, but fell to 35th the year Connor was born.

Janzen has made nearly $7 million in PGA Tour earnings, but aside from his victories at the Open, has been known lately for tournaments he failed to win.

The most spectacular flame-out came at The Players Championship last year when he saw a three-shot lead after three rounds incinerate during a final-round 79.

"I probably had some self-doubt at TPC," said Janzen, who led the recent Memorial Tournament after two rounds before stumbling in the third.

"I felt I should have been farther ahead. I thought about putting the clamps down, instead of just playing golf. It didn't help my confidence."

Last year's Open was nearly the reverse situation. Stewart had the four-shot lead over Tom Lehman and Bob Tway, with Janzen five back going into the last day.

"From the fifth hole on, I didn't miss a shot," Janzen said.

What happened to Janzen on the par-5 fifth hole has become Open lore. His tee ball flew into a clump of cypress tree branches, and he went back to the tee to hit a provisional. But USGA officials called him back down the fairway.

A gust of wind had blown the ball out of the tree.

After hitting his recovery from the rough to the fringe of the green, Janzen chipped in for par.

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