Champions Tour: Steady golf is key to Lehman's success

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Tom Lehman has finished in the top 5 in every start but one this season. He was T44 at the Outback Pro-Am.
June 02, 2010
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

To err may be human but it's not the way Tom Lehman plays golf.


Lehman's game is about staying the course, remaining consistent and taking advantage of the circumstances. If that means windy conditions, all the better because there is no such thing as an ill wind for Lehman.

Lehman began the final round of the Senior PGA Championship at the new Colorado Golf Club in suburban Denver tied for the lead. Before long, he was looking up at the leaders because, as Lehman put it, he "hit some really squirrely shots."

And then the wind started to blow. It changed a lot of things, some imperceptibly and others more profoundly. Most importantly, it changed Lehman's outlook. He turned to his longtime caddie, Andy Martinez, and they both knew what it meant.

"I said let's just play 12 really good holes, let's not beat ourselves, let's give ourselves a chance to win," Lehman said.

"That's what we did, we played very steady golf from that point on."

Lehman played the final 12 holes in 3-under-par and went on to win his first Champions Tour major championship in a playoff over Fred Couples and David Frost. The performance was vintage Lehman.

"I really didn't do anything exceptional, but didn't make any mistakes," he said. "And I kind of let myself move up a few shots and let those who were up ahead to fall back. That's kind of what happened."

Lehman made a clutch par putt at the 18th hole to get into the playoff, then won with par on the first extra hole.

Lehman's final-round 71 gave him four sub-par rounds. He was the only golfer in the field to achieve that distinction.

Colorado Golf Club, a course designed by the Champions Tour's Ben Crenshaw and his design partner Bill Coore, earned positive reviews in its debut as a major championship venue.

"I always thought that it would really yield to very, very well thought-out golf," Crenshaw said. "I really heard some nice comments from some of the players. It's a very natural course.

"It's a wonderful piece of property that we had to work with here. As I said earlier, the natural attributes of the course we thought would just allow us to lay the holes in. And we worked very hard on the bunkering around the greens and the contouring of the greens. But the holes, they have a nice individual character to them and they're fun to play in a lot of different conditions."

Those are the qualities that appealed to Lehman and fit his game so well.

Lehman hit 75 percent of the fairways at Colorado Golf Club and tied for second in greens in regulation at 76.4 percent. His putting was solid (T18 at 29.8 putts per round).

"More than anything, I'm a very consistent player," he said. "Basically I've always been pretty steady, and conditions like this have always worked in my favor. I normally hit it solid, which you need to do in the wind. So a championship like this really it kind of works right into my wheelhouse.

"To get back in the winners circle, after being close a lot, feels really good. I've had some chances earlier this year to win and I didn't."

In six starts this year on the Champions Tour, Lehman has posted five top five finishes. He is fourth in scoring average at 68.60. He's first in scoring average on the PGA TOUR at 69.45 so the strong play at the Senior PGA Championship can't be a surprise.

"Any time you play an event where all the best players are there, I mean you feel really good about competing and you feel really good about winning," Lehman said. "That's why the majors are so special."

Lehman doesn't bemoan the near-misses in his career. He's come close in majors before, at the Masters, and at the U.S. Open on more than one occasion before winning the Claret Jug in 1996 at Royal Lytham & St. Andrews.

"The thing about sports is that you just simply can't sit there and say like, well, boy, I'm unlucky," he said. "I've always thought more in terms of, if I was just a little bit better, I would have won those tournaments. If I would have shot 70 instead of 72, if I would have shot 70 instead of 71, I would have won. Where did I fall down? Where did I fail?

"At the end of the day I feel like I can hold my head up high, knowing that I competed and played very well in the majors that I didn't win... well enough to win many times, but just didn't win."

Lehman will never have to say that about the 2010 Senior PGA Championship.

Champions Tour Insider notes

Corey Pavin became the fourth Champions Tour player to record a Top 10 on the PGA TOUR this year with his T7 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. The others are Michael Allen, Fred Couples and Tom Pernice, Jr.

Bill Glasson finished T6 last week at the Senior PGA Championship for his first Top 10 anywhere since a T6 at the 2004 Tucson Open on the PGA TOUR.

• The field at the Principal Charity Classic includes 26 of the top 30 on last year's final money list and eight of the top 10 on the current money list.

• Local favorite Lonnie Nielsen will be inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame Thursday.

Champions Tour Insider Vartan Kupelian is a freelance contributor for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.