Tom Lehman won his fourth career title on the Champions Tour last year at The Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic, the second of his three victories during the 2011 season. Lehman went on to be voted as the Champions Tour's Player of the Year last season, becoming the first professional ever to garner Player of the Year honors on all three Tours. Lehman returns to defend his title in Mississippi and talked recently with Champions Tour Media Official Phil Stambaugh about Fallen Oak and winning there last year.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: What were your keys to victory last year at Fallen Oak?
TOM LEHMAN: The main thing that stands out to me is to keep the ball out of the fairway bunkers off the tee. The bunkers there are very difficult, very deep, and very penal. I think that's very important and I managed to do that very well at Fallen Oak last year. I think I only drove it in only one fairway bunker during the tournament. I also was able to take advantage of Fallen Oak's par 5s. On most of them, I was either on the green in two or very near the greens and seemed to be able to always chip it close for an easy birdie. I really took advantage of my opportunities on the par 5s during the week.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Is there anything about last year's tournament that stands out to you?
TOM LEHMAN: I played very steady from start to finish. I think I had a four-shot lead playing the par-3 17th on Sunday and I hit a beautiful iron shot that ended up 35 feet from the hole. Jeff Sluman then holed a long birdie putt to temporarily reduce my lead to three and after I lagged my approach putt to just over four feet from the hole, I was able to make my par putt. If I would have missed, the margin could have been just two shots very quickly and anything can happen on that final hole there. It just shows you how fast things can happen when they are seemingly in the bag. As it turned out, Jeff hit a bad drive at No. 18 and eventually made double-bogey so my winning margin was four. It appeared like I cruised to victory with a big winning margin when, in fact, that really wasn't the case. It was a really well-contested tournament last year and I thought I played really well throughout.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: You've played a number of Tom Fazio-designed courses in your career. How do you rate Fallen Oak among the other Fazio courses you've played over the years?
TOM LEHMAN: I would rate the course exceptionally good and it's a difficult golf course. I think, early on, Fazio courses tended to be very beautiful and picturesque but somewhat vanilla in terms of how difficult and challenging they might be. Over the years, especially more recently, I've found his courses have gotten significantly more challenging. The greens are much more difficult and the fairways are narrower and more pinched. That's exactly what he did at Fallen Oak. It's a very challenging golf course. I think you need to take advantage of the par-5s there, but there are also some short par-4 holes you need to take advantage of. There are also some difficult holes where you need to just hold on and not lose strokes. If you don't make birdies on the par-5s and the short par-4s there, it will really cost you but also, you can't drop strokes on the good, hard, par-4s on that course either.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Your win last year at Fallen Oak was actually your second on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You also won on the Nationwide Tour in that area in 1991. Any significance?
TOM LEHMAN: It's probably coincidence more than anything, but I do feel there's something to feeling comfortable in different places where you go. For whatever reason, that's how I feel down in that part of the world. The people are very friendly and it's beautiful there with the lush topography and the huge trees. I just like it and feel good there. Usually when you feel good and are happy to be somewhere, your play reflects it.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Talk about your start to the 2012 season?
TOM LEHMAN: I wasn't quite ready for this year to start. As much as you try to prepare, I played golf all the way through the middle of December last year and I just needed a break. When the season kicked off I don't know that I was quite as ready and quite as prepared as a year ago. That's really changing now. I've been working hard on my game and feel like I'm back on track. I'm motivated and excited to play and really happy where my game is right now.