Minnesota native Tom Lehman, one of golf’s premier rags-to-riches stories the past quarter century, will continue trying to help resuscitate a slumping United States Ryder Cup team as the first of captain Davis Love III’s four vice captains for next year’s match at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.
Already part of the 11-member U.S. Ryder Cup task force assigned to overhaul the system for putting the 12-man team together, Lehman was introduced Tuesday as Love’s first vice captain choice during a news conference at PGA of America Headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Love was introduced as captain first, although news of his selection was leaked a week ago.
“Being from Minnesota — Alexandria, Minnesota — to be able to go back home and be a part of this Ryder Cup team, it will be a thrill beyond all thrills,” Lehman said. “It will be an honor to go back to Minnesota and be a part of this.”
Under the new system, the 55-year-old Lehman will be one of two former Ryder Cup captains to serve as a vice captain. The other two will be players with extensive Ryder Cup experience.
“Minnesota’s own Tom Lehman has been a voice of reason and passion on the task force, the PGA Tour Board, as a Ryder Cup captain,” Love said. “And, as a Ryder Cup vice captain, he assured me, he could get the team Minnesota Wild tickets, as well.”
The prestigious biennial men’s match-play event, which began in 1927, makes its Minnesota debut at Chaska’s 7,678-yard brute from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2, 2016. The European team, which will be captained by Darren Clarke, has won three consecutive matches and six of the past seven.
Hence the PGA of America’s decision to assemble a task force — which includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — to try and turn the tide in future years. As for 2016, the Euros, who are led by World No. 1 player Rory McIlroy, are expected to be a considerable favorite.
While the European’s selection of Clarke was met with widespread praise overseas, the choice of Love was more controversial in the U.S. He was the losing captain in 2012, when the Europeans tied the biggest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history, rallying from 10-6 down to win 14½-13½ in the meltdown at Medinah in Chicago.
Fred Couples, who is 3-0 as a Presidents Cup captain, and Paul Azinger, the only winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain this century, were the preferred choices by many. Lehman, who helped select Love, embraced not only the choice, but a new system and team-oriented attitude that more resembles the European approach.
“Probably the biggest thing I like is the complete commitment of everybody who is part of that task force and now expanding outward,” Lehman said by phone after the news conference. “To a person, everybody has said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.’ To hear Tiger verbalize that and to hear Phil verbalize that, and Jim Furyk to verbalize that, I’ve never heard those guys verbalize it. I could see that they cared and poured their heart into it, but I’ve never heard them actually say, ‘You know what, whether I play or I don’t play, I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win.’
“Now, everybody is talking that way. To me, that’s the exciting part. That’s how you get things changed.”
The U.S. Ryder Cup points system was revamped and extended by two weeks to Aug. 28, 2016. Instead of the top 10 players making the team based on points, the top eight will play their way in. Then three of the four captain’s picks will be made on Sept. 11, while the last one will come after the Tour Championship on Sept. 25, two days before Ryder Cup week begins.
Mickelson, an outspoken critic of captain Tom Watson’s approach in 2014, said Tuesday that he likes the new system because it’s receptive to input from the players and voices outside of the captain.
“I’m excited about the next generation of players, Rickie [Fowler] and Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed and guys that are going to be on the upcoming teams that will have input in who their captain is; how it’s captained, who the vice captains are,” Mickelson said. “The entire process I think will be a very positive experience for all the players and very exciting opportunity over the next 10 Ryder Cups to hopefully improve on the record that we have been limping home with.”