And a local will lead them in Frisco
When the 83rd KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship tees off Thursday at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch East, an important first shot for a facility which already has decades of big tournaments on its future books, a familiar face will be striking it.
Cameron Doan, 55, PGA Director of Golf at Preston Trail Golf Club in Dallas, has been trying to play in major championships his entire life. That he will do so so close to home is sheer synchronicity for a man who has seen and done it all at one of the premier clubs in Dallas.
Doan’s duties at Fields Ranch East this week will be two-fold. In addition to representing his club and membership – Doan earned his spot with a T-3 finish at the 2022 Senior PGA Professional Championship – he will be representing Northern Texas PGA Section, now headquartered on property, where he is the section’s acting vice-president.
There will be a lot of faces he knows standing around that first tee, and it’s sure to be a special moment for Doan, the son of a PGA Professional.
“I’m honored,” said Doan, one of 35 Club Professionals who compose this week’s Corebridge Financial PGA Team. “So we knew what we were playing for about a year ago (the Senior PPC was staged in New Mexico in October). When I played well enough in New Mexico to finish third and get this, it was pretty emotional, bo be honest.
“We’ve got 800 members in this section. So it’s not about me. I’m representing them. That’s an honor.”
Doan tried to play his way into the PGA Championship for years but never did get there, and at 55, he wondered if it ever would happen for him. He has accomplished plenty in the game, including winning the PGA’s Bill Strausbaugh Award in 2018, a national honor, in additon to winning the 1987 New Mexico Open and induction into both the El Paso and Texas Halls of Fame.
Mark Harrison is the CEO of the Northern Texas PGA Section, and he flew from Texas to New Mexico last fall to be there when Doan finished up at the Senior PPC. Harrison was an instrumental figure in helping bring Frisco and the PGA together for this massive project that will define the PGA’s future in the game. He can’t think of anyone more deserving than Doan to be able to hit that first shot. In fact, Harrison will caddie for Doan on the opening hole, then hand the bag over to Doan’s son, Tristan.
“It’s been amazing watching this come together, literally from the first bulldozer out here moving the dirt, all the way to this,” Harrison said Tuesday. “For me, it’s probably going to hit me pretty hard when Cameron hits the tee shot and we play that first hole. Can’t wait.”
“There’s a lot of guys that hit that tee shot … you couldn’t have scripted it any better. He’s the right guy to hit that shot, for so many reasons.”
And once that shot is airborne, Doan said he quickly must get his game face on and compete. Fields Ranch East is a strong test.
“I think the biggest challenge is relax and get comfortable and go play, get past all of the buzz,” Doan said. “That first tee Thursday, three’s going to be a lot of buzz.”
Texas homecoming for Justin Leonard, and an entertaining Leonard-Woods showdown story
Justin Leonard, the 1997 Open Championship winner at Troon, lives in South Florida now, and previously was in Colorado. But Texas, and Dallas, always will be home.
He was asked, What will it feel like to play a major championship in Frisco? Consider that in 2019, ground had yet to be broken.
“It's fun. Hard to imagine that sentence three or four years ago,” said Leonard, who turned 50 last June and is a rookie with the PGA Tour Champions. He owns three top-10 finishes in seven starts in 2023. “But with the vision the PGA of America and moving their headquarters and this facility, it's fun. I've been looking forward to this for a couple years, and now that I've seen the golf course, I'm looking forward to it even more.
“I think that Gil (Hanse, the designer) and his team did a really good job of a great challenge, but it's a course that the public can come out and play and they'll enjoy it. They may lose a few golf balls, might make a few bogeys, and you'll probably see that from us this week.”
The last few years, Leonard’s son, Luke, has been hooked by the golf bug. He is starting to shoot some nice scores, which is fun for his dad to see, and recently had an enjoyable showdown with Charlie Woods, Tiger’s son, in the Tequesta Country Club Junior Club Championship. Both major-winning dads were there to watch.
“That was fun. Luke got paired with Charlie,” Justin said. “They go to the same school, although they're on different campuses. He (Charlie) will be a freshman, so they'll be at the same school. But I think it was Luke's first time to play with him – and I know it was his first time to play in front of Tiger Woods.
“It was cool. I enjoyed not only watching my son play, watching Charlie play because he played great, and then talking about junior golf with Tiger for nine holes and little things that we see in our kids that they need to work on or whatever it may be.”
Charlie Woods, who is 14, would win, shooting 65. Luke Leonard, who is 17, fired 70. Impressive.
Leonard smiled while talking about one particular shot that young Charlie, who has been the darling of the PNC Championship in Orlando the last couple of winters playing alongside his famous dad, struck during the round at Tequesta into a par 5. “This beautiful high like soft cut, looked like a 3-hybrid or something,” Leonard explained. “Landed on the green, and it stopped dead. There might have been a little bit of a club twirl at the end of it (he smiled), and I walked by Tiger, I go, ‘Okay, a lot of that looked very familiar,’ and we both had a good chuckle.
Leonard said there are times when he is giving advice to Luke that he also is giving to himself at the same time. Leonard said when his son is practicing hard and not seeing results in his scores, Dad has been there.
“Trust me, your game is getting better, the scores will come,” Leonard said. “I'm talking to myself, too, at the same time. We're learning a lot of lessons. I'm relearning them, he's learning them for the first time. But yeah, it was a pretty fun Saturday.