CROMWELL —Twenty-one years ago Friday, Lee Janzen channeled his inner Tom Watson and feathered a 30-foot chip to history on the 16th hole at Baltusrol. Twenty-one years ago Friday, Janzen's drive on 17 hit a tree branch, bounced back on the fairway and suddenly anything was possible.
Twenty-one years ago Friday, Janzen drilled a 190-yard, uphill 4-iron that hit near the green, bounced left within eight feet of the 18th hole and gave him the opportunity to become our national golf championship's statistical bridge between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
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"It changed my career," Janzen said. "Definitely."
Twenty-one years later, Lee Janzen walked off the 18th green at TPC River Highlands, two shots short of making the cut at the 2014 Travelers Championship, yet determined to keep pushing, pushing, pushing at the game he loves.
On Tuesday night, barely 30 hours after he had gotten into the Travelers at the local qualifier at Black Hall in Old Lyme, Janzen said he felt a spasm in his back. The problem lingered for four days.
"It's not the first time, but generally it only lasts a day," Janzen said. "The physio guys we have out there get on top of these things and I can usually get over them pretty quick."
Not this time, although Janzen certainly wasn't terrible. After an even-round 70 on Thursday, he shot 71 in the second round. He bogeyed the second, fourth and fifth holes, but rebounded to birdie the sixth, 10 and 13th before bogeying 15 and barely missing a birdie putt on 18.
Yet it wasn't the pain that hurt him.
"I shot 1 over [for 36 holes] and could hardly move," Janzen said. "When something hinders you from moving, it makes it tougher. Something that's painful but doesn't keep you from swinging the way you want to is probably easier to handle. It's unfortunate. It's the way it goes.
"I struggled for two days to hit the ball the way I wanted."
Janzen turns 50 on Aug. 28. And as unremarkable as his career turned after a killer stretch in the 1990s when he won eight times and became one of only nine double U.S. Open champions since 1974 … well, let's just say Janzen is rather remarkable the way he keep pushing without any sense of entitlement.
Immediately after his 50th birthday, his plan is to play on the Champions Tour. That means he will play on the Web.com, PGA and Champions tours — Triple A, majors and seniors — all in 2014. Joe Durant, who made the Travelers cut, is the only golfer to do that this year. It certainly qualifies as a rarity.
"What would really be great is win Web.com, PGA Tour and Champions events," Janzen said. "But the odds are dwindling. The only way I wouldn't [go to the Champions] is if I played on a regular tour event and win, and that would change my status.
"There are plenty of guys my age and older who have played better than I have. I try to stay fit and played fairly competitive in tournaments until the last year or so. Over the last month of so, I have started playing really well."
On Monday, "[Qualifiers] are more of a sprint than a marathon. You have to be careful that you aren't so amped up that you can't even play." Janzen's career, however, is nothing if not a marathon.
He has been on the tour a quarter century, but he doesn't have a top-3 finish since 2006. Take a look at his past few years. Last year, he played in 11 PGA Tour events, made two cuts, and earned $25,482. He played in nine Web.com events, making $11,342. This year, he has played in five tour events, with three cuts made, a 56th best, $33,582 made. He has played two Web.com events and missed the cut both times.
Janzen has played in eight qualifiers this year. There he was, too, the first week of June trying to qualify for his 20th U.S. Open in Purchase, N.Y., falling two strokes short. On Monday afternoon, he shot the low round 66 on the par-71 Black Hall course to grab one of the four Travelers qualifying spots. He is not too proud to go up against the young bucks, the local guys and all the other dreamers.
"Signing up for the Monday qualifier, I was really looking forward to it," Janzen said. "Coming up to the Northeast when the Web.com Tour is on the other side of the country, there are a lot fewer players to play against. Some of the qualifiers early in the year are pretty tough.
"I played three on the West Coast, lost a playoff in L.A., disappointing. Riviera [site of the Northern Trust Open] is one of my favorite courses and this being my last year on tour before the Champions Tour I would have loved to play there one time.'