Lehman aims for smaller schedule, but loftier goals

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Tom Lehman played 29 times all over the world in 2011. It turned out to be one of his best years in golf, as he won three times and was voted Champions Tour Player of the Year.
January 31, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

When things are going nicely, it's difficult to dial back. That's true in everything, golf included.

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Tom Lehman played in 29 tournaments last year. It's not a figure he had a mind when the 2012 season began and it's certainly not a number he's looking at for 2012.

"I won't do that again, I can assure you that," Lehman said. "I might get 23 or 24 in."

Those 29 were something of an aberration, but a good one. He was playing so well and enjoying it so much, he just kept teeing it up in 2011. The rewards were impressive. Lehman won three times, including a major at the Regions Tradition, won the Charles Schwab Cup, topped the money list and earned Champions Tour Player of the Year honors.

It gave Lehman the distinction of being the first player to win Player of the Year honors on all three tours -- the PGA TOUR, the Champions Tour and the Nationwide Tour.

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It also gave him the satisfaction of knowing what he set out to do. That word -- satisfaction -- probably best sums up Lehman's 2011 campaign.

Lehman said the Player of the Year was especially gratifying because it is the vote of his peers.

"All the guys you play with and respect and admire so much," he said. "So for them to make that decision means a lot to me. I think we all appreciate the fact that other players respect your ability. To me that says a great deal and makes me feel really good."

The 29 events were the most Lehman has played in many, many years. The breakdown was 21 events on the Champions Tour, five events on the PGA TOUR, and assorted others. He played and won in Mauritius, in a European Senior Tour event.

"As the season progressed, it seemed like I just really wanted to play as much as I could to keep on pursuing the goal that I had set for myself," he said at the end of the year. "It ended up being a lot of golf, but it was a worthwhile year and very satisfying.

"I was always planning on playing at least 20 on the Champions Tour. I don't think I played any more or less on the Champions Tour than I would have otherwise. It's just the other ones I committed to play on the PGA TOUR, five of those, then three others throughout the year, kind of made the year become a bit more full than maybe I would have liked otherwise."

Lehman had no intention of cutting back on his Champions Tour campaign so adding events was the only way to go.

"It kind of ended up being what it was," Lehman said. "I'm not sure I would play that many again. I certainly would cut others versus cutting Champions Tour events."

Lehman, who will be 53 in March, has no plans to dial back the level of his play. He's still setting lofty goals for himself.

"I certainly have other goals that I've set for myself in terms of tournaments I'd like to win, things like that," he said. "But it was really one of the main goals I set for myself, was playing well enough to have a chance to win (Player of the Year). Having achieved that means a great deal.

"But as a competitor, one of the goals is always to just keep on improving and keep on working, see if I can play better and better and better as each season goes on. We'll see where that takes me."

The fact that Lehman has been Player of the Year on three tours, given the late start to his career, speaks a great deal about his dedication and perseverance. He wouldn't give up.

Lehman was 31 when he won the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year in 1991. Five years later, he won the same honor on the PGA TOUR.

"I was on the Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide) at 31, getting ready to turn 32," he said. "There is a point where it seems you can get stuck. If you don't make a switch, you wake up one day in your 40s and you're still kind of chasing that dream. I certainly didn't want to be in that position.

"Somewhere in my early 30s there, it seemed like something had to happen, something had to change, and change quickly, in order for me to keep on going. That Hogan Tour was such a godsend."

Lehman likes to keep his goals close to the vest. But it's clear what tops the list -- more victories and more majors. It's also obvious that the Champions Tour is an excellent fit for Lehman, the man and the golfer.

"I typically don't like to share my goals and my aspirations," he said. "I would like to be able to win as many tournaments as I can, as many of the bigger ones as I can. I've already won two of the majors out there and I'd like to win the other three. As I think of my career on the Champions Tour, that would be a goal, to win all the majors."

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. He can be reached at golfstix@aol.com.

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