What they said: Tom Lehman

March 15, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

MORE: Toshiba Classic transcript archive

DAVE SENKO: Well, Tom, thanks for joining us. I know this is your third time here. You've had a chance to see the course yet. Any kind of changes this year at all??

TOM LEHMAN: No, it looks the same to me. It's just a really enjoyable, fun golf course. The greens are tricky as you probably hear from everybody, a lot of slope, difficult to read, but the course is in great shape, and I just think everybody here enjoys playing it. It's a fun tournament.

DAVE SENKO: How about your year so far, maybe just summarize it??

TOM LEHMAN: A little slow start the first couple of weeks, I played pretty well, but without getting the results I was hoping for. But played well at Naples and finished third. And I played well the following week on the TOUR at the Mayakoba Classic, finished in the Top 20 somewhere so I had a decent week there, so I feel like my game is kind of coming back into shape. Yes, I feel good about it.

DAVE SENKO: Questions??

Q. How many TOUR events are you going to play in??

TOM LEHMAN: Maybe two or three, not many.

Q. What have you enjoyed the most about this Tour or the atmosphere??

TOM LEHMAN: I think it's easy to enjoy anywhere that you play where you feel like you got a chance to win a lot. So whether you win, or just have a chance to win, being in the hunt a lot is enjoyable. So I enjoyed that. I enjoy the camaraderie with the guys out here. I think everyone out here appreciates the fact that we still can play golf for a living, and still have the capabilities and the talent to play. And I think everyone has things in a little better perspective than you do when you are younger, so the competition is more enjoyable. Not at much fear factor, what if I fail? What if I don't succeed? What if I don't make the Ryder Cup team? What if I don't keep my card? All of those kinds of things really wear on you. Out here there is really nothing else to prove other than to just enjoy the competition and do the best you can.

Q. Tom, do you still feel like you can win on the PGA TOUR??

TOM LEHMAN: I think if I had a really good putting week I could. Of course, the venue is a factor. There are some courses that I would have no chance on with the length being too much of an issue. But there are some courses where I feel like I could really do well if I really got hot with the putter. You know, take a place like Harbour Town.

Q. Mayakoba??

TOM LEHMAN: Mayakoba. I think I finished tied for 15th, and I really made nothing all week. Although I rolled it well, nothing seemed to want to go in the hole. So I look at weeks like those and think if the putter were really working, and I was able to handle my nerves, I still would have a chance on some of those courses.

Q. When you made your mentor commercial with Kevin Streelman, you were kind of playing the role as a task master.

TOM LEHMAN: I've heard that.

Q. You were kicking his butt pretty much. Is that kind of a side of you that maybe we don't see a lot of time in terms of the way you really are??

TOM LEHMAN: You know when you edit things and cut things down from four hours of conversation to three minutes it kind of comes across that way. I don't think he would agree that I was kicking his butt.

We have very honest conversations. I think one of the big issues with, you know, people who have strong faith in addition to competing is that conflict between accepting things the way they are, and wanting to compete and get better, and at what point are you in the right balance. So, to me, I'm always trying to confront that with how you can work really hard and accept the results, but you don't have to be happy about the results. And that was the point I was trying to make to him. There are times when you feel like you give a great effort, you have prepared properly, and you got less than what you wanted. So on the one hand, you should feel really good about that and just let the results be what they are. On the other hand, you can't be happy with it when you finished 19th.

Q. Was that something that you struggled with on and off during your PGA TOUR career at times??

TOM LEHMAN: Yes, I think anybody who I think I shouldn't say everybody. But I think there are those who kind of get that conflict of, hey, it's God's will versus being unhappy with the result. So there is an element of both. I think the attitude I was trying to learn myself was to really try hard, to give a great effort, to really care, and to let the results go where they are going to go. But at the same time, I don't have to be happy, and I shouldn't be happy with less than my best. So that's the fine line. And so it's easy to kind of get too far on the one side and go whatever. And the other side, you are so mad and angry with your result that you lose perspective of everything else. So as an athlete, that's always a tough line to find.

Q. You have had some great points in your career, some close calls in majors, dealing with those close calls, how did you use your faith to get through those and go on to the next one??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think easily, because I realize that defeats are as important as victories. And we have a lot more defeats than victories typically. So what are you going to learn from those? There is usually a reason why you lose. That's what I have come down to. It's usually a reason why you get beat. And it's usually that you could have prepared better, or you could have used your time better, or whatever it might be, so you end up taking defeats, and you learn from them and then you move forward. So the idea at the end of the day kind of molds your character to become better at what you do, a harder worker, a more loyal guy for my caddy who I can trust more, a better father. All of the things that you end up dealing with, so the defeats help make you better, at least they should theoretically.

Q. Do you think with the success that you've had at every level you've been at professionally; do you ever think that your career is say Hall of Fame? You have succeeded at every level you have been at.

TOM LEHMAN: I have. I've been able to reach the top at every level. I don't think I've been a consistent enough guy around the greens. I would never say my putting is bad. I would never say my short game is bad. I would say I've always been good. A lot of times what it takes is great around the greens. And being simply good gives you a lot of close calls, but not enough big victories.

And so when I look at my career, the number of victories on the TOUR is not enough. The numbers around the world are maybe better. But being able to reach that top plateau at every level, it's something that I'm quite proud of. So being able to get to No. 1 in the world, for a brief period of time, was big. Player of the Year three times is big. Those are all things that I look at and I could be very proud of.

Q. And do you think that's an intangible that should be considered??

TOM LEHMAN: Yes, I think to go strictly on a set number of victories is a good starting point, but maybe it shouldn't be everything. But once you get into that land of subjectivity and just kind of what you think, that becomes a sticky wicket as well, so I don't know the answer to your question. But I think there is more to it. I think if you look at a lot of the great players of the game, there are probably some guys who maybe would be in there that's kind of interesting. And then are some guys that aren't, you say that's really too bad, they probably should be.

Q. Do you think what you do on this Tour should be factored in as well??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think a Hall of Fame is supposed to be something that recognizes the entire body of work. I think it should factor in some way. Maybe not as importantly as The TOUR. Not as importantly as we do in the biggest stage, but it should be a factor in some way.

Q. When people look back in your career, they look at your major championship in the British Open. It was three months before Faldo made up a big lead in The Masters. Now, you are in that situation again with him. What do you remember about that morning or preparing for that or whatever the expectation? Also playing with him in England?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, the part about playing with him I took as a challenge. I liked that a lot. When I walked off the green on Saturday and went into the media room, the very first question, and when I say the very first I mean the very first, was somebody saying, at Augusta, Norman had a six-shot lead and lost and now you have a six-shot lead, and you are playing with Faldo, what do you think about that?

Well, you know, of course it was immediately brought up. But I think that's where the mental toughness comes in that you develop playing overseas. Because you have to at some point just say, no, not today. And even though on Sunday I didn't have my very best, I still felt tough enough to hang in there and get the job done. I made some really big saves. I made a really great birdie on the 12th hole. I kept that cushion all day long which is tough to do. I look back on my career, I think all of the years in Taiwan, and Korea, and South Africa, and the mini tours, that's all what lead up to being able to hang onto that lead.

Q. What was the crowd like that day??

TOM LEHMAN: Well they were pro-Faldo for sure.

Q. Do you remember any distractions??

TOM LEHMAN: I remember a lot of really, really sun burnt Englishmen with their shirts off. It wasn't a pretty sight. It was a hot dusty, dusty crowd. You can tell where the final group was because there was a big layer of dust hanging in the air where the crowd was walking all day. It was more of a San Diego week than a British Open week. But the breeze, when it kicked up, made it tougher and the ground was as hard as a rock. But it was a fun week.

Q. You talk about your early years battling your way to get out here, I know those days are pretty well gone, but the tough days, watching pennies, how much do you think went into what you've been able to accomplish??

TOM LEHMAN: I think a great deal. It's everything that happens kind of molds you. So I've always been of the opinion that when you go through a period where you really have to work and struggle and get to where you want to be, you have two choices. You either get up after every defeat or you quit. So every time you get up and keep on going it makes you that much stronger, I think, between the ears. I think also it helps you to determine what you think your top end is.

So I think all of those years that I really had to work, you know, I could see the improvement. And then I would play with other guys and compare myself to what I saw in them, it made me believe that I was capable of reaching the top. Like I say, I wouldn't trade any of those years for anything. Quite frankly, the way my career went has become more commonplace. Maybe at the time it seemed unusual, but nowadays it's not at all unusual for a guy to be late 20's, early 30's before he gets his card. It becomes somewhat more normal.

Q. Did you first get out here from Q School??

TOM LEHMAN: Yes, right out of college when I was 23 years old. I went three years where I got my card, lost it, got my card, lost it, and then wandered in the wilderness for a while and then came back.

Q. When you say it came back and stuck, was that also through Q School??

TOM LEHMAN: No, that was when I was No. 1 on the Hogan Tour.

Q. What do you mean wandered in the wilderness??

TOM LEHMAN: You know, overseas and the mini tours. When you play in mini tours and finish third and you make $5,000 bucks, which is enough to pay the bills and then the check bounces, that's wandering in the wilderness of golf. Those things happen.

Q. What are your goals for your Champions Tour career? Do you want to get double digit wins? Have you set these bench marks? You know what I'm saying, or you don't want to occupy your time with that?

TOM LEHMAN: I find that you have to really slow down in life; get real still to make those decisions. I know last year was a culmination of some real serious goals. Now going forward it needs to be reset for me. So there are more goals to achieve, trust me. I have some goals that are pretty lofty. But one of the struggles of success is that it does take away some of your time. So, for example, on the PGA TOUR, the more successfully I got, the more opportunities there were to play overseas with sponsors. A lot of it had to do with the ability to make more money.

The Champions Tour is a different scenario, this stage of the game, it's more about how can you use your influence to make a bigger impact, for me, on the community where I live? I take it very seriously living in Phoenix to try to have a positive impact in my community. I'm involved with some things that are real significant. So the influence and the leverage through success of golf has given me more of an impact, so I get busier in that direction. So there is a fine line of how do you stay focused on your game and keep it a priority and not let the other stuff encroach.

So I've always believed there are a lot of good things out there but you have to stick to what's best. And the best thing is always, hey, I'm a golfer, stay focused on golf, and focus on the other stuff that are more important to you, and the rest of the stuff, you can't let it get in the way. So that's kind of where I am at right now, sifting through. I will be honest; I have more notoriety today, when I walk through airports, when I go out to dinner, everywhere that I go, than I had when I was No. 1 in the world and playing on Ryder Cup teams. I mean not even close. I'm not sure why that is. But it is the way it is. So there is more opportunity to have a bigger impact on things and you can't do everything.

Q. You mentioned perfection. You know the story about where the guy sells his soul to the devil to play a perfect round and then he loses his interest in golf??

TOM LEHMAN: I haven't heard that one.

Q. Can you comment on that??

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I think what you do has to be a passion. You have to love it. And if you love it, you don't ever let yourself get there. So I know for me there are always distractions in some form or another. But you always end up coming back to the fact that I love to play golf. I love to compete. I love to work at it. I love this lifestyle. So you end up always getting refocused and moving down the right direction. So the idea of losing interest in golf, I don't think will happen to you if you really love golf. I think some people see it as a way, a means to an end, a way to make money. It's a living. And they do it because they are good at it. And that's fine. And at some point you say, I've had enough, and you retire and you go away.

Other people, they never retire. And I think those are the guys that I'm talking about. They love it so much they never want to quit. They never want to get away from it. Even if they can't play anymore they still want to be involved. A guy like a Byron Nelson, who just stayed involved for so many years, writing letters and notes and making phone calls and being at big tournaments and shaking hands, and saying hello. He just loved it so much that he always wanted to be involved. So there are all kinds of motivation and reasons for playing. I know, for me, if I didn't love it, I would give it up. But I love it, so I won't.

Q. When you look at those very talented guys on the PGA TOUR in their 20's doing those kinds of things, what types of things do you think they could do better? What are your thoughts on it?

TOM LEHMAN: I see a huge amount of talent. That's one thing I do see is very talented guys. So I think, as a group, the TOUR of today is way more talented top to bottom than ever before. I want to be very clear that I would never want to diminish how good they are. What I think is lacking at times is the one-dimensional type play that they are being forced to play; by the length of the courses, or the way the courses are set up, whatever it might be, the equipment. It's forced a one-dimensional type quality of play.

The guys who you see really rise to the top are guys who have developed more of a complete game. Rory Mcllroy has a very complete game. He can hit it hard. He can hit it three quarters. He has a great short game, a great touch. Luke Donald, obviously has a very complete game, and I think those guys who are aspiring to that need to aspire to that need to aspire to that kind of completeness in their game, and I think they will learn that.

That's one thing that I talked to Kevin Streelman, what kind of shot can you go to when you are uncertain, that you know you can count on? It's not always that hundred percent, throw it up in the air and hit it hard. There has to be more to it than that. And I think you get there eventually when you evaluate why you are not having the success you want.

Q. It's like you say when they play on these 500-yard courses, it's hard to learn out there??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, it can be, yes. Then you will see the guys that won't play those shorter courses. Look at Tiger, Tiger has never played Hilton Head. He would be great there. He could have hit his 2-iron all day. But it wasn't one of those courses that really suited his game. He is only going to play 18 tournaments; he picked the 18 that did. It makes perfect sense. But I wish we had more courses that required more of that style of play. It's interesting all right. Thank you.