Partnerships of all sorts come together at LMILOG

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Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer have much in common, which makes for a good partnership.
April 19, 2012
John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Not all of the drama at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf unfolds on the course.

In the two-man team format, some pairs are enduring (Fuzzy Zoeller and John Jacobs) and some are obvious (Kentuckians Russ Cochran and Kenny Perry, former Ohio State mates John Cook and Joey Sindelar). But a few came together at the last minute, making for some interesting moments.

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If you've ever teamed up for anything with someone who wasn't your first choice, you can understand.

"Nobody else would play with me. It's sad," said Fred Funk, smiling.

That's not entirely true, but his partnership this week with Jay Don Blake wasn't automatic. Both players wanted to team up with other friends, but those friends weren't exempt to play. And just because your friend can't play doesn't mean you sit out the Champions Tour's most enduring event.

So, Funk picked up the phone.

"I ended up telling Jay Don, 'we can't wait, let's just commit to each other.' So we did," Funk said.

Those kinds of stories come around every year at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, as eligibilities, schedules and players' health fluctuate.

That's how you get allegiances like 51-year-old Ian Baker-Finch and 66-year-old Hale Irwin.

"He'll be the settling influence, the fatherly figure, and I just hope I play OK and support him with a few birdies," said Baker-Finch, who can still recite the details of playing with Irwin at the 1984 British Open, his first major.

"We'll probably say on the first tee, 'no saying sorry for bad shots,' and the first time you hit one, you say 'sorry.' But it's in good fun, you don't want to mess up your partner. You want to play your best."

The marquee group of Friday's first round features two pairings of friends, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman, and Jay Haas and Fred Couples. Langer and Lehman, the last two Charles Schwab Cup champions, won the Liberty Mutual in 2010 and are reunited for this year after Langer missed the 2011 event due to injury.

The former Ryder Cup foes became friends on the PGA TOUR through weekly bible sessions, and when Lehman turned 50, Langer was waiting to pick him up as a partner.

"We're both very competitive, we like each other's company, we're both very encouraging toward each other," Langer said. "That's what it comes down to. You want to be with someone that you spend three days in a row, five, six hours together, someone that you relate to."

That's certainly the case for Couples and Haas, the Presidents Cup captain and assistant of 2011 and '09 that go back decades as competitors and friends. They last teamed up in Savannah in 2010, tying for fourth, and Couples said he'll keep playing with Haas until "they say we can't."

Figuring out if they're playing well is easy too -- forget the scoreboard, just listen for a conversation.

"Our caddies are buddies too, so there will be a lot of bantering going on," Couples said. "If we're doing OK, it won't be too serious. If we're struggling a little bit, it gets to the point where you have to lay off a little bit."

Several others echoed that sentiment before Wednesday's pro-am -- except for one half of the field's brother-brother duo.

On that team, the dynamic is unchanged.

"Same it's been for 50 years, trust me," said Lanny Wadkins, playing with his younger brother Bobby. "I call him fool, he calls me fool. We get along good, it's just fun."

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