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Lee Janzen's Q-school quest continues

11/30/2011 - Golf Lee Janzen

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Between 1992 and 1998, Lee Janzen won eight times on the PGA Tour, including two U.S. Opens and the Players Championship in '95, the year he captured three titles. The former Florida Southern All-American was never going to dazzle fans with shot-making or high drama. His gift was for plotting his way around a golf course as if he were playing his way around a chessboard or a game of billiards.

It's been a long time since that gift for laborious planning has served him well. Janzen hasn't won on the PGA Tour since that '98 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. And he hasn't been fully exempt on the PGA Tour since 2009. In 2011, he made just $216,993 in 19 starts.

At 47 -- three years shy of graduation to the Champions Tour -- Janzen is at Q-school this week for the second year in a row after making it to the finals with a tie for 18th in the second stage at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla.

On Wednesday in the first round, Janzen shot a 1-under 71 on the PGA West TPC Stadium course. With a double bogey on the par-3 17th hole in his 1-over 37 on his first nine holes, it looked like he was headed for a tough day. But he rebounded on his inward half with four birdies. After the first day he is in a tie for 87th.

On Tuesday, I had waited for an hour to talk to him while he hit balls on the practice range. Other than the addition of a glove on his left hand and a few pounds of muscle, he doesn't look much different from the man that players once called the Terminator for his ability to finish off tournaments. I could tell by his body language that he really didn't want to talk to me. Reporters know when they are being given the cold shoulder.

Maybe he has good reason to not want to be asked another question about how it feels to be a two-time U.S. Open winner at Q-school in a field with a 172 guys with lesser résumés than his own. There had been some brief chitchat between him and Billy Horschel about when the Georgia-LSU SEC championship would start Saturday. His former Florida Southern teammate, Marco Dawson, had said hello on his way to the short game area. But mostly Janzen stayed busy working on his game.

When I did catch up with him on the 50-yard walk to the putting green, he finally told me what it was like for Lee Janzen to be back at Q-school.

"It's not easy coming to Q-school," he said. "For one, I have to do interviews about the fact that I'm even at Q-school. And that's a distraction and I don't want to be distracted and I don't want to distract the players I'm playing with, which happened five years ago when I was here for Q-school.

"A TV crew just came up and started setting up off the green right in the middle of the other guy's line and after three holes I had to tell them to leave."

When Janzen came to Q-school here in 2006, he said he was at the lowest point of his career. It had been 16 years since he had been to the tournament. The Orlando resident had so little confidence that he could hit the ball in the fairways on some of the holes on the Stadium course that he would just hit it the opposite direction from the water or the out of bounds.

Every second I thought the interview was going to end abruptly with him signaling the end of our conversation by slipping the cover off his putter, but he kept talking.

"Who am I to think that I don't have to qualify? That would be really a sense of entitlement and I don't have any entitlement," he said. "I've won big tournaments, but it's strictly on the guy who is shooting the lowest score.

"I have to look at it with the right attitude. I'm looking at it as a fun challenge to get my game back to where it once was. I've worked really hard physically so that I can hit it as long as some of these young bucks."

Janzen told me that his swing is now technically better than it was in his prime, but he's careful to not focus too much on one aspect of his game.

"You spend so much time trying to fix something that you ignore other parts that work," he said. "Sometimes I would find myself out there hitting balls for hours thinking that I had to because I wasn't shooting the scores yet.

"I was focusing on the fact that I wasn't playing good when I should have been thinking about all the things that make me play good like chipping and putting and scrambling."

Janzen might have an improved golf swing and better practice habits, but nothing trumps confidence.

"You have to swing with confidence," he said. "I can't just walk out here and act like I'm the best player here if I don't have anything substantial behind it to prove it. I thought I could play back then and I proved it."

The success of his buddy John Huston on the Champions Tour this year makes him giddy with anticipation about his own prospects of once again being a regular contender. "I know I'm going to get excited about the senior tour, but not yet," Janzen said. "If I were 50 today I would be real excited."

But for now he has 108 holes to determine his near future on the PGA Tour. The sun's descent behind the mountains wasn't far off, so I tried to let Janzen work on his putting.

"I'm in control of my own destiny here," he said. "If I shoot the scores, I get to play."

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.