What they said: Tom Lehman

October 31, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

THE MODERATOR: We welcome Tom Lehman into the interview room this morning.

Tom, thanks for joining us. Currently second in the Charles Schwab Cup. 211 points behind Bernhard Langer, a big week here. But it's sort of a home game for you to come back to a familiar place as you go for your second consecutive Schwab Cup. General thoughts with coming to Desert Mountain this year?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I like the weather a lot better than it was earlier in the week last week in San Antonio. That's for certain. Good to be here , great to play at home.

Any time you play at home it's nice. I've always enjoyed all of the years playing in the Phoenix Open, and the FBR Open and the Waste Management Open.

It's nice to have another Tour event. Sleeping in my own bed is really nice. I'm sure Mike Allen feels the same way and whoever else might be from Scottsdale. A lot of history here at Desert Mountain for me.

We talked about during the media day with Jim Flick having been here for so long and spending so much time with him working on my game. And with him being so sick, it's kind of a bitter-sweet week to kind of be here.

He is very interested to see what happens and I will give it my very best in terms of my position.

Bernhard has played amazingly well this year from start to finish if you look at just the statistics, the number of starts, the number of Top-10's. He is a very, very consistent performer from the very beginning of the year. Obviously putting very well, and whenever you play against a guy who is rolling the ball well, and making a lot of putts, it puts a lot of pressure on you, to feel like you can't make a mistake.

So I think the real key for me this week is just going to be patient. Just do what I can do and accept the results that I get. Knowing that if I do play really well and win, it's still in my control.

But the way Bernhard is playing, and the way a lot of other guys are playing, it's not going to be easy.

Q. Can you talk about the Cochise course here at Desert Mountain, how do you think it will play as a tournament venue??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think it's the kind of course that will give up some low scores if you play well. Every time I've played here in the past, every time I've watched The Tradition Tournament in the past, and talking to Dick Highland, who was the Director of Golf a long, long time here, the way his experience on the course, you realize that the course will give up a low score if you play well.

I think it's a second shot course. Generally there is enough room off the tee. I don't think the narrowness of the course is going to be a big issue for most players if you are hitting it reasonably well. I think it's a second shot course. So putting yourself in position will be very important.

Shortening two of the par-5s to par-4's makes it more difficult. But I still do think that with the nice weather, and the perfect conditions of the golf course, the length of the course, how far the ball goes, there is good going to be a lot of short irons. There will be a lot of birdie chances. Somebody is probably going to take it pretty low.

THE MODERATOR: We will go for questions. Wait for the microphone if you can.

Q. (Inaudible)?(Inaudible)?

TOM LEHMAN: I was out here. I had a chance to play. I came out for a couple of days, the week before, so two weeks ago, I spent two days out here. There is a lot of grass. The course is in really great condition. They are just starting to mow the fairways down and the greens were rolling reasonably well. They are not as quick as they are right now. But it was very obvious to me that the condition of the golf course is going to be perfect.

It was good to kind of spend some time and getting all of the lines off the tee, especially on the par-5s that they shortened. They were kind of blind tee shots, and you had to kind of know where to aim it, kind of get re-acquainted with the course. It's time well spent. I think I got a lot accomplished that I don't have to worry about this week.

Q. You spent a number of years after you turned 50 still playing on the regular TOUR, playing extraordinarily well here and playing pretty good there. Everybody talks about the Champions Tour being much more relaxed than the regular TOUR. But what about the veracity of what it takes to play at this level. It's like everybody talks about the quality of play being as good here, and it is, how do we get this laid back atmosphere to translate to yeah, these guys can still play??

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I think all of the stuff you experience as a younger player you kind of realize at some point you put a lot of undue stress on yourself. I think that's kind of what I see. I see guys who are very thankful to have a place they can play and compete, very grateful that they can continue to work on their games and make a living at golf.

And then as a result, work very hard on their game still. And because of that, scoring very low. But not being nearly as consumed or concerned with, you know, a bad day. Nobody likes to play poorly. But, you know, I haven't seen too many guys walking out to the parking lot and slamming their clubs on the ground and throwing them into the trunk and steaming off because they're so upset because they bogeyed the last two holes.

You see more of the, hey, it wasn't my week. I will get them next week. And when they do get a chance to win very seldom do you see a guy back up. You see that a lot on the PGA TOUR.

The courses are a bit more difficult. There set up may be more difficult. But you see a lot of guys getting a chance to win, and because there is so much pressure, and so much to be gained from winning, they self inflict the torture. That's what I see.

Whereas out here I see guys just enjoying the competition. They kind of come to that point where they enjoy the competition. They enjoy the challenge. It's not life or death whether it goes well or it goes poorly. As a result they play well under pressure, and they score well under pressure.

Q. Tom, what do you think your chances are of retaining that cup? I mean you are in No. 2 spot and apparently there is only you, and Chapman are the only two guys that can catch Bernhard.

Do you think you can get it done and what would it take??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, do I think I can get it done? Yes, I do. I know that I can. Let's put it that way, I have a pretty strong belief that my best golf is good enough to get the job done. It's just a matter of whether you can pull that best golf out this week. I think it's difficult in some ways knowing that you have to play your best to prepare yourself to do that.

I think I'm in a position where I can't afford to make a lot of mistakes. That in and of itself is a bit of pressure knowing that you can't afford to blunder a whole lot out there.

So I think the confidence then becomes, how do you prepare yourself to just be patient hoping that when you get to the back 9 on Sunday that you are in the hunt and have a chance?

I think that's the way I'm looking at it. If I just kind of mind my own business and just pay attention to what I'm doing and just play golf and execute the shots, hopefully on Sunday afternoon I'm going to be in the mix. If I get in the mix, then it's anybody's ball game. It's a free for all. That will make it a lot more fun.

Q. Do you know exactly what you have to do as compared to what he has to do??

TOM LEHMAN: I do not. I do know this, if I win, I win. So, you know, I know there is 30 really super players here. So winning is not easy.

Q. Also you mentioned Jim Flick, can you tell me about that, what's going on with Jim??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, he was diagnosed a few weeks ago with terminal pancreatic cancer. It spread already to his liver and to his kidneys. There is nothing they can do for him. There just trying to make him comfortable. So he is at home. I think his wife is caring for him along with hospice. He is not in very good shape.

Q. How do you feel about coming home to this home crowd and playing in front of them??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I always enjoy it. There is going to be a lot of people out here that we've gotten a whole bunch of tickets. I know we will have a good crowd of supporters for me. There are friends that are wanting the best and hoping for the best. They all made it very clear to me that, hey, you've had a great year. You've had a great run out here the last few years. Whatever happens, we are going to have a great time, and on Sunday night whether you win or lose, we are going to have a great party.

To me, that's kind of the beauty of it all. This is a great week to be here in Scottsdale. It's a great week for our family and friends. Win or lose it's been a great year, and we know we are going to enjoy every minute of it.

Q. (Inaudible)?(Inaudible)?

TOM LEHMAN: Like I said, you always have an expectation to play your best. I know that if I play my best it's going to take some really good golf to beat me which could happen. I've played some great golf over the years where I lost. So I could go out and play my very best this week and still lose.

So, I think, the hope is simply to do that. Is to go play my best.

If I go out and play my best, I can accept whatever I get.

Q. What's been the thing that's missing in your game the last month or so that you haven't nailed down a win or something like that??

TOM LEHMAN: You know what I think more than anything, when I look at my -- I've had a lot of really good tournaments where I finished third and fourth and second and seventh. But I haven't been super sharp inside of 100 yards. I really haven't.

My wedge game has been off all year. I was talking with my caddy last week and it seems like you kind of get in these streaks where you seem to have all of this in between yardages. Every big shot you have that you really need to hit it close is just right in between.

For me, I don't remember a year where I've ever had so many shots that we are like 108 yards, or 102 yards or 123 yards into the wind. Where the sand wedge is not quite enough, the pitching wedge is too much. I don't carry a gap wedge. I'm falling into that crack. Literally fallen into that crack so often this year, especially from the summer on to the point where I am considering going to get a gap wedge for next year which I've never done before.

I just found that, you know, I'm really good at hitting a 112 yard pitching wedge into the breeze. But I'm not good at hitting 102 pitching wedge into a breeze. The sand wedge full into a breeze always spins back 40 feet, so it's like you have this gap where I've just been tortured all year long.

So when I have to look at the year, I see myself wasting the opportunities from 105 yards, 98 yards, 107 yards, or I'm hitting it 30 feet versus hitting it 8 feet, or 4 feet or 12 feet. So I'm losing a lot of chances because of poor wedge play. So that's the way I see it. I have been driving the ball great, rolling the ball really well. Just not hitting it close enough with those short irons.

Q. You spoke before about the laundry list of things that you feel you have to do in order to play well in the moment. So how do you manage those circumstances where the pressure mounts, and you feel the excitement coming up? How do you contain yourself? How do you stay in the moment? It's one of the arts of the game. How do you manage that?

TOM LEHMAN: How do I to manage that? It's such a cliche, but it's really true, 72 holes is like a marathon. So you start at the first hole, and you try to hit a good shot. You try to hit your second shot as well as you can and then you try to roll the putt, and you try to develop the momentum simply by executing shot after shot after shot. That's all that I try to do is just hit good quality shots and let those lead to, you know, good scores and let the momentum build because every effort is a good effort.

And when you make a bad shot, or miss a putt or whatever, you just shake it off, and you just keep moving forward.

To me that's the momentum of it all. You can't win a golf tournament on the first tee. But you certainly can start the process on the first tee.

So there is this fine line, I think, between playing it shot-by-shot and momentum. And you can build momentum, I believe, by simply staying so focused in the moment, and just hitting good quality shot after good quality shot, that before you know it, you realize you are 2-under and then 3-under and 4-under and the round is over and 68 is a good score.

The next day you go out and you repeat the same thing, and maybe it goes a little bit better, or a little bit worse, and you feel good about that.

So every step along the way you feel good about it because you are just really, you know, tending to business.

And then you get to the back on Sunday, and you realize I've got a chance. Then it becomes really important just to keep on doing that. Just hit good shots which lead to good scores.

Q. Tom, with you being a local guy, what does this mean for the Champions Tour to come back here, now that it's going to be alternating here, and be played every other year for a while, what can that do toward establishing maybe a little more committed presence here in Arizona??

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I'm happy that we are here. It's a great venue. I think the best thing we can do is put on a great show here. I think for having this tournament here, and having so much riding on it for the week, and for the year, to put on a good show and create some enthusiasm would be important. It's a great golf community. Thunderbird with the Waste Management Open, with all of the money they raise, the history of The Tradition being here with Jack and Arnie and Gary, and all of those guys, and now having this come back every other year, I think it really kind of completes the circle a little bit. I think it's a good thing for Scottsdale. A great time of year. It's up to us to put on a good show.

Q. Why do you think it's taken so long for the Champions Tour to get back here for some kind of an event. It's been 10 years. The second part of the question, did you play any role at all in pushing for this to move here as a local guy??

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I don't know the answer to the first part why it's taken so long. I think it's sometimes difficult when there is such big events here on the PGA TOUR, to have a second event. I think it makes it more difficult. It seems like the communities, it's easy to make it quickly are the ones where there is no event. An example, you got the U.S. Senior Open in Omaha next year. The town is already buzzing about that and has been for a year and a half or 2. Billboards have been up for almost a year and a half already.

But there is nothing in Omaha with golf. There is no competition.

So when you have to compete against the Waste Management Open, in all different ways, spectator excitement, sponsorship money, ticket sales, whatever it might be, that's a lot of competition right there. So this makes it more difficult.

The second part of the question, the terms of what my involvement was, there really wasn't a whole lot. One thing we did talk a great deal about was how to make sure the course was playing the way it wanted to be played with firm, fast conditions right after the over seed was done.

So, I think, that was something that was discussed at length about how the Cochise course was going to be dealt with with over seeding, so that we didn't end up with kind of muddy conditions you get typically, which a lot of courses have right now as we come out of over seeding.

So they over seeded early, and the course has been closed for almost two months. I think that was maybe the one conversation that I had at length with a couple of our Tour officials about, just make sure we get it that way, make sure we work with the club so that we get it with the conditions that are firm and fast and that you don't hit tee shots and end up with mud on the ball.

Q. An unrelated question, you mention your wedge play and Jim Flick, wasn't that the reason that you came here the first time??

TOM LEHMAN: It was, yes.

Q. Are you going to be thinking back to some of the things that he taught you or worked with you on back in those days??

TOM LEHMAN: You know what, not really so much because the wedge issue, to me here is how golf kind of gets in your head. You start thinking about when I talk about in between yardages, this is absolutely one of those years where it's been like that. Every time you hit it 30 feet, then the next one becomes more difficult. I've got to hit this one close. So you hit that one 25 feet. And the next one becomes difficult, and you hit that one 35 feet. Then you finally hit one to go in. And then there is a couple of more lousy ones, and before you know it you have this anxiety about how I have to hit it close because it's just another chance at this in between shot.

So that's what happens, you know, to players overall with their games where they start worrying about everything, you have to do it; you have to do it, and you develop a history of maybe not hitting the shot that you have to.

So, to me, that's the issue. It's a simple solution to find a gap wedge rather than fight. Why fight against City Hall? But learning a new club usually takes some time and time isn't something that you have in the middle of the season.

Q. Tom, speaking of having new clubs, are you putting long or short now??


Q. And what is your opinion on the probable ban of the long putter? Loren Roberts mentioned on our radio show last week that he felt like 60 percent of the guys out here would like to see the long putter go away and that kind of surprised me. I would think this Tour would want the long putter more to kind of help their eroding putting skills?

TOM LEHMAN: Do you think I can get that worked out by Thursday?

(Laughter) Well, I think you see that guys who use the short putter are probably more critical than the anchoring, the guys that are using it. I've done both. And I honestly don't think I was any better or any worse with either way. I think I'm actually better with the short putter. I didn't see a huge, huge -- what happens is, guys kind of do something, and they kind of lose their stroke, or they kind of semi-yip, or they try something new because something has gone terribly wrong with their putting stroke, and they need to do something different. So they go to that belly one, and they try to find something they can actually compete with.

I would be willing to gamble quite a bit if they were to go back with their short putter, they probably would find they would be able to go back to that short putter and putt better again, because the things you learn from the anchoring can be applied to a short putter and is somewhat helpful.

I just personally think to make that kind of a change, at this stage of the game, where kids have grown up actually putting that way, they've anchored it since the time they started.

You look at somebody like Keegan Bradley, the way he putts. Or Webb Simpson, the way he putts. They've been doing it that way since they've started. It isn't just something they picked up a year ago because they putted poorly. They actually learned to play golf that way because it felt the best. So to tell them, no, you couldn't use that anymore, I think would be -- you would have a huge fight on your hands. I support those guys in that fight, because boy, it's a long time after the fact, and the horses are way out of the barn by now so how do you call them back in. I'm personally not in favor of outlawing it. I don't think it makes a bit of difference.

Q. So if you put the gap wedge in, what would you take out and why??

TOM LEHMAN: That's part of the issue. You know if I took out the rescue and put in the gap, the next week I would be needing that rescue club 27 times. Now I have this gap between my 3-iron and my 3-wood, which is about 50 yards wide versus the gap between a sand wedge and a pitching wedge which is 20. So there you have the secret. To me you have to figure out your bag, bend a couple of clubs a little bit stronger, maybe get a new rescue, which is a little bit weaker. Who knows what? But you got to drop something. Some guys take that out, maybe take the 3-iron out and strengthen the 4-iron. There is all kind of ways to do it. But that means relearning yardages.

If you bend the 4-iron, then you got to adjust the 5, and you kind of got to get your gaps rights all the way through the bag. That takes a lot of thought and effort and time.

But all I know is this, I can tell you, the average golfer, what happens is you get these in between yardages, and you try to hit it so easy you decelerate. You decelerate on a wedge like you decelerate on a putt, and you end up hitting bad shots.

But it's hard to do that when you know you have to hit it so easy. And likewise, you try to hit that sand wedge harder, and you just add spin and that doesn't work either.

So I try to avoid getting into that zone. I try to get it way up there for a lob-wedge, or way back for a full pitching wedge. I try to hit it and the perfect yardage can be difficult.

THE MODERATOR: Tom, thank you very much. Good luck this week.

TOM LEHMAN: Thank you.