Reusse: Lehman's golf mojo is ship-shape

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 11:57 PM
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Minnesota native Tom Lehman played Friday in the PGA Champions Tour Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla.

Photo: Chris Trotman, Special To The Star Tribune

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BOCA RATON, FLA. - The Champions Tour started a season-long points competition to claim the Charles Schwab Cup in 2001. Tom Lehman became the first golfer to win the Cup in consecutive years, in 2011 and '12.

Lehman will be facing a self-imposed obstacle as he attempts to win a third Cup in a row -- and the $1 million bonus that goes with it.

"My son will be playing football and I'm going to miss six or seven tournaments in the fall," Lehman said.

Notre Dame Prep is in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Phoenix area's equivalent of Cretin-Derham Hall: a Catholic school that moves up in classification and is a perennial contender in football.

Thomas Jr., the third of four Lehman children, will be a senior next fall and is projected as the starting quarterback. It was suggested to Tom that his son must have acquired the football gene of Jim Lehman, Tom's late father and a star for John Gagliardi when the coach arrived at St. John's in 1953.

"I know he didn't get that gene from me," Tom said. "There was nothing I could do well in football.''

Jim Lehman did introduce his sons -- Jim Jr., Mike and Tom -- to golf at the Alexandria Golf Club as youngsters. Jim Jr. and Mike were very adept at the game, and Tom became the most prominent Minnesota-trained golfer in history.

The seniors are playing the Allianz Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound this weekend. Lehman has Allianz as a sponsor and won this tournament in 2011.

Lehman turned 50 on March 7, 2009. He played 17 events on the PGA Tour that year and nine in 2010. He shared a victory with Bernhard Langer in the Legends in 2009 and won a major, the Senior PGA, in 2010.

Since then, Lehman's focus has been on the Champions Tour, with five total victories, two more majors and the two Schwab Cups.

"Life is good,'' Lehman said. "You're playing with a great bunch of people every week. There's plenty of competition."

Pressure? "I don't know if that's the same, but the desire to win is the same," he said.

When Lehman was at his best on the PGA Tour, it seemed that the tougher the track, the better his chance to contend. Example A: He was in the final twosome on the last day of four consecutive U.S. Opens.

You know the legend of the U.S. Open: "Par is a good score."

Par will get you about 54th place in a Champions Tour weekly 54-holer.

"You can't have a bad round -- even a mediocre one -- and win,'' Lehman said. "You have to stay aggressive and make birdies for three days."

Lehman never seemed like a good enough putter to win in weekly birdie fests. He tried the long putter for three years in his late 40s. He's returned to a traditional blade -- a Scotty Cameron -- and looks confident rolling the ball on Champions Tour greens.

"I've always felt like I'm a good putter," Lehman said. "The wins come on those weeks when you're a great putter."

Lehman had five official wins on the PGA Tour, including the British Open in 1996. He also won the '96 Tour Championship and was the PGA Player of the Year.

Let's repeat that: Tom Lehman was the PGA Player of the Year. How good do you have to be for that?

Lehman hit that draw with such precision; he hit the ball close to the hole so consistently; he competed so fiercely in the 1995, 1997 and 1999 Ryder Cups ...

You always felt there should have been a couple more huge victories -- the Masters that he lost to Jose Maria Olazabal, maybe the U.S. Open that he lost to Steve Jones on the 72nd hole at Oakland Hills?

What missed chance haunts him?

"Congressional, without a doubt,'' said Lehman, referring to the 1997 U.S. Open. "I was at the top of my game that week.

"Everybody talked about the shot that went in the water at 17 lost the tournament. That wasn't it. What cost me was the bogey at 16 -- just a bad shot for no reason. That's what put me in the situation where I had to try to make a shot at 17 that was close to impossible."

Fifteen golf seasons later, Lehman has found his additional majors on the Champions Tour, where life is good and the desire to win remains strong.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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