Champions Insider: Year of majors for Lehman

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At the age of 50, Tom Lehman tied for 14th in the British Open last month at St. Andrews.
August 18, 2010
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

Tom Lehman continues to produce major moments in major championships.

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He'll get another chance this week at the JELD-WEN Tradition, the fourth of five Champions Tour major championships.

For the fifth straight tournament, and five out of six, Lehman will tee it up in a major.

Before that sequence, he played and won the Senior PGA Championship.

At the British Open on the Old Course at St. Course, Lehman tied for 14th against the youngsters. He closed the championship with an eagle 2 at the 72nd hole, where his tee shot ignored the Valley of Sin and almost went in for an ace.

No problem. The ace wasn't to be far off.

The next week, Lehman tied for 11th at the Senior British Open at Carnoustie. Upon his return home to the United States, he tied for 12th at the U.S. Senior Open and closed the stretch by making the cut at the PGA Championship and finishing tied for 55th.

At Whistling Straits, Lehman made a hole-in-one in the final round at the 17th hole at Whistling Straits. He used a 4-iron from 217 yards.

Bernhard Langer has won back-to-back Champions Tour majors this year at the Senior British and Senior U.S. Open. He's going for a third straight at JELD-WEN. But another major victory by Lehman at Crosswater Club at Sunriver, Oregon, or the Senior Players Championship, the final major, would add some fireworks to the Champions Tour postseason honors.

Lehman has the luxury of choosing between the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour. So far, his choices have proven to be excellent based on his performances.

"I enjoy the Champions Tour a great deal," he said at Whistling Straits. "I enjoy playing (the PGA TOUR) a great deal. It's always nice to come back and play with the young guys.

"I am still competitive. I still work pretty hard on my game. It's a tough call sometimes (which Tour to play). To me it's not always easy. There's still a lot of gray in there for me as to what exactly I should do and what direction I should go, because there's so many positive things about both the Champions Tour and the PGA TOUR."

The plan is for Lehman to play between seven and nine events on the PGA TOUR and 15 on the Champions Tour.

"So my schedule is fantastic," he said.

The downside of a split schedule is that he limits his possibility for the year-end events, the FedEx Cup and the Charles Schwab Cup, where the rewards for outstanding play are substantial.

Schwab Cup: Top 5
The season-long race for the Charles Schwab Cup faces a big week starting Thursday at Sunriver:
Player Points
Bernhard Langer 2,390
*Fred Couples 1,993
Tom Lehman 1,134
Nick Price 1,079
John Cook 960
*Playing this week in the Wyndham Championship in the hopes of qualifying for the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup

"If you're not committed to one tour fully, you lose all the benefits that go along with playing well, but I know that I enjoy each week that I play," Lehman said.

Lehman's play on the Old Course was an eye-opener but not surprising to him.

"I expected to play well," Lehman said. "I felt like I did play well. I feel like I finished 14th without really making a whole lot of putts.

"The last two or three or four weeks have been strange for me. I've rolled the ball incredibly well and have not made anywhere near my share of putts whereas earlier in the year, I feel like I didn't roll it quite as well, but I made a lot more putts, so who can figure?"

Lehman, the 1996 Open Champion at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, has an obvious affinity for Open Championship rotation courses. There is a practical reason for that, too.

"There are courses that do not benefit anybody at any particular age and typically I think the links courses are probably more that way than most," he said. "I think the links courses don't put the premium on distance, they put more of the premium on the line that you can hit consistently and keeping your ball in play and keeping it out of trouble.

"Experience become as huge factor. So I felt like getting back to the Open Championship that I had a really good chance to play well there."

Lehman will put his vast experience to use on another front as an assistant to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin at Celtic Manor in Wales.

Lehman was captain of the 2006 American side which lost to Europe at the K Club in Ireland.

He represented the U.S. as a player on three occasions -- 1995-1999 -- with a 3-0 record in singles. Pavin will rely heavily on his assistants. Lehman and Pavin share many of the same traits. To begin with, they're competitors and they're direct.

"I think he'll do a really good job, I think he's done a very good job already," Lehman said. "Corey is a very, very straightforward guy, and he chooses his words very carefully and gets right to the heart of the matter."

Lehman said Pavin's reputation as a bulldog will "translate well with the team."

Lehman wants to see more aggression from the American golfers in Wales.

"Our team needs to be, especially over there, way more aggressive than we have been in the past," he said. "I think we need to shoot at the pins more often and not worry about making mistakes, because you really kind of go for broke and that's the way Corey plays golf and I think that's the way the team will play."

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