2001 US Open - Tom Lehman News Conference Transcript

By Golf Channel NewsroomJune 14, 2001, 4:00 pm
TOM LEHMAN: Well, that was five years ago, so this is definitely a new year. But the U.S. Open is the most special tournament in the world to me. It's good -- to be here playing means a lot. The golf course is a great test, as I'm sure everyone has heard for three days now. It's a fantastic track. It's going to take some great golfing to manage to beat the course this week.
Q. Tom, there's been a lot of discussion about 18, and particularly the green. I assume you played the hole today. Has it changed at all? Has the condition changed at all?
TOM LEHMAN: Actually, I'm playing as soon as I leave here. So I haven't played it yet today. I know the USGA basically has a handle on it. They're not going to let it get away. I think they're doing all the right things and it shouldn't be a problem, I wouldn't think.
Q. This course through the years has had a history of wire-to-wire winners, is it -- is that coincidence, is it something about the course, the kind of player it demands or what?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, I've heard that over and over again for the last couple of months, and I can't really be certain why that is. But my opinion is that it's a golf course that -- it's a great golf course, first of all. It's very difficult and it kind of keeps you a little bit off balance. Just in the way the holes turn, a lot of doglegs and subtle ways about the course. The greens are difficult. I've found it's been difficult to get into a good flow out here. And so, therefore, the players that are playing really well can really -- it can get away from the players who aren't. You play very well or you play poorly; there's not a lot of guys who will go through the weeks saying, 'I played average.' It seems to really kind of separate good from bad, quite significantly, and there are the guys that are on their game can really get out and stay out ahead.
Q. Tom, you've mentioned that it was five years ago since you won so handily here. How has your game changed since then, and if at all, and how is the course set up differently now than it was then? Of course, a different time of year and conditions were different. How different is it?
TOM LEHMAN: The course is definitely different. The course is more like it was in '95 at THE TOUR Championship when Billy Mayfair won. It's kind of firm and that way -- and the greens are quicker that way. And the wind is blowing like it was that year, and even par won that year. It's playing quite different than it did in '94 and the PGA and quite different than it did in '96, as well. The rough is cut differently. The fairways are narrow. There's spots where I played my first practice round where I thought it was going to be perfect and it was in the rough by ten yards. It's a bit different in that way, too. The added length won't be a factor, I don't think. But the par-3 -- a couple of par-3s are a little more difficult. No. 8 and No. 13, I guess it would be, or the 14th. But it's basically the same course, just very firm, very fast, and par will be a good score.
Q. What about your game?
TOM LEHMAN: My game is very similar. I feel like I'm playing the best I've played in a long time. I feel like I'm in the best shape I've been in in a long time. And my swing is probably as repeatable as it's been in a long time. My putting stroke feels solid. I played well last week. I've actually played fairly well most of the year, just trying to reduce the amount of mistakes that I make mentally.
Q. Tom, a lot of talk about the golf ball doesn't move as much as it used to and you don't shape the ball as much. Do you feel you still have the right-to-left ball that you can hit off the tee on these doglegs and motor into them?
TOM LEHMAN: I can still work it. Once a right-to-left guy, always a right-to-left guy. But it doesn't turn as much. In a way, a course like this is somewhat easier to play, when you can really work the ball a lot, working it around the corners. And the straighter the ball flies, it makes the line a little more precise. Maybe not quite as easy to hit some of the fairways. The new technology has its benefits, but also there's some things that aren't so good about it, and working the ball definitely is one of them.
Q. Tom, having played in the last group on Sunday four times at the U.S. Open and not winning, are those negative memories you have to contend with or are there positives there that motivate you?
TOM LEHMAN: I think they're all good memories. I don't lose any sleep over it, that's for certain. But I was talking yesterday about that, and really, two years when I was playing extremely well, '96 and '97, Congressional and Oakland Hills. There was really only one shot I wish I could take over again in those two years. You can't cry over spilt milk; I'm not doing that. The chance to play in the last group Sunday, is something I would cherish and relish and look forward to again.
Q. Tom, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the reward. You said: 'This is what I do in my life, I don't need to be rewarded being myself.' How did you feel when you were there, did you enjoy it?
TOM LEHMAN: I enjoyed it. It was an honor to be given that award, especially learning more about who Coach Hank Iba was and what he was all about. What I said was it seems a little bit unreal to award people for just being the way you're supposed to be. And we're all supposed to be kindhearted and should be generous and have some concern towards our neighbor, so why should you pat someone on the back for doing what they're supposed to do. That was my point. In a way it was kind of -- I was very humbled by it, really.
Q. Tom, it's been a pretty busy week already for you, with the award Monday night. You and the guys ready to start tomorrow?
TOM LEHMAN: No question. Normally most players don't show up to a tournament until probably Tuesday. You play a couple of practice rounds. So having three days to be here and prepare is more than you normally use. And therefore, I didn't even play on Monday. I putted and chipped and hit some balls, but two days of practice rounds is all most guys need.
Q. Tom, Lee Westwood this morning said that we won't find out how good Tiger Woods really is until he goes through a slump. He said he's never been through a slump, and we have to wait until he goes through one to find out how good he is as a player. Can you comment on that, please?
TOM LEHMAN: That's assuming he will go into a slump. I'll never make that assumption. Slumps are caused by really two things: Lack of enthusiasm or a flaw in your swing, neither of which he has. I wouldn't be looking forward to slumps anytime soon.
Q. You talked about being in the best shape of your life. I've heard a lot of golfers say that this week. Is that directly attributed to Tiger, do you think, and his work ethic, or to try to keep up with him?
TOM LEHMAN: I think I said best shape in a long time. I know when I was 18 I could run circles around myself at 42. But it's mostly related to the fact that my wife gets sick and tired looking at me being overweight. So it has nothing to do with Tiger. It has everything to do with making my wife happy. So, therefore, I've been working out.
Q. Tom, as a follow-up to all of this talk you always get about Tiger, is it good for golf that he has won four majors in a row going for his fifth or would it be good for golf this week if somebody else wins the major and steps up to his challenge?
TOM LEHMAN: I think it would be great for golf if I won this week. That's all I'm going to say about that. It would be great for me.
Q. A clarification. The shots you would take over, was that at Congressional at 16?
TOM LEHMAN: 16, definitely. But 17 -- so maybe two shots. That bogey at 16; I hit the wrong club on 16, and so really kind of forced the issue on 17. So if I could take any one shot over again, it would be the shot on 16.
Q. The other thing is, we came here this week and everyone is talking about Tiger Woods. Now after three days, everyone is talking about the golf course. I wonder if the players have changed in their discussions, as well, this week?
TOM LEHMAN: Have what now?
Q. If the players have changed, too, if they came here talking about Tiger, but now are talking about the golf course, because the golf course has become center now?
TOM LEHMAN: I think most players have yet to see Southern Hills at its fiery best, which it was in 1995, but only 30 guys got to play that week. '94, it was middle of August, it was soft. '96 it wasn't all that -- it wasn't that much easier -- or tougher, I should say. And so most players haven't seen Southern Hills as it is right now. Therefore, the talk now is the golf course, because the golf course is just a phenomenal golf course. Any thought of what somebody else is doing is just pretty much sinking your own ship. You can't waste your time worrying about one guy. There's too much to worry about, maintaining your own game and your own emotions, or else the course will eat you up. Bottom line is if you can go out there and tame this golf course and beat this golf course, I don't care who it is you're playing against, you're going to have a good chance winning.
Q. Tom, considering the way you've described this golf course, Tiger said a couple of weeks ago at Memorial that the reason he plays so well there is because it's always wet and he can just pretty much do whatever he wants to off the tee. How do you see this golf course setting up for his game? Is there any golf course that's difficult for him or does he just have all the shots to play on any golf course, no matter how it's set up?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, how it's set up for him, you'll have to ask him. I have no idea what he thinks about it. But from my perspective, I don't really see any course that he couldn't play. I think he's proven that over and over again. A course like Memorial plays more into his strengths. But how do you talk about somebody's strengths when they have no weaknesses, so what do you say? I don't think there's any course that doesn't favor the best player in the world.
Q. Tom, if you know that you're playing with Tiger in the final group on a Sunday, is there a different approach, is there more factors you have to deal with?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, there's more factors. The biggest factor is just the crowd. That's the biggest thing. If you talk to most players who play with Tiger, it's always an experience that's enjoyable. It's always nice to play with the guys who are the best players. But dealing with the circus -- the first two rounds of Congressional at the U.S. Open, Tiger and myself and I think Steve Jones played together, and there was -- must have been 120 media guys on the course with us, and there was two people who were full-time in charge of making them go in the right places and doing the right thing, and not talking or shooting when they weren't supposed to be talking or shooting or not moving. You don't deal with that playing with Davis Love or Lee Westwood, like I'm playing with the first two days. There's the circus atmosphere of the crowd when playing with Tiger, which is difficult. Maybe it's even tougher to play right in back of him or right in front of him, because folks are running to get in a spot where they can see. Therefore, you're constantly getting people running up on you or -- and distracting you.
Q. If you were to come in with like 68 tomorrow, would you figure you'd got there multiple birdies and some bogeys or could there be a bogey-free 68 on a golf course like this? And the other half is would you expect that you'd make some long putts on these greens?
TOM LEHMAN: The greens are pure. And if you're rolling it well, you're going to make some putts, period. As far as bogey-free rounds, yeah, you can do that out there. The course is not impossible. If the wind blows real hard, it would be highly unlikely. If the weather is reasonable, the wind is reasonable, I can see a guy playing on this course, a round without bogeys. The birdies are not going to be easy to come by, but you can make them.
Q. Tom, you finished well in Hawaii, and last week in between the finishes weren't as solid. Has your play been inconsistent or you've played well and not scored?
TOM LEHMAN: I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself. Being a Ryder Cup year, wanting to make the team. I've been in great shape on Sunday four times, for sure, when I've shot terrible rounds, 4-over, 3-over, and shot myself in the foot. And what it's been more with me is playing very well and getting nothing out of it. Putting too much pressure on myself, wanting to play well too badly. I feel like my game is really good, just that maybe I haven't been approaching it the right way.
Q. Have you done anything, anything in advance of the Open to try to tweak that?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I've tried to put out of my mind all the stuff you can't control. I can't control what happens with the Ryder Cup team or what somebody else does. I've just tried to kind of refocus on myself, and what I'm doing is playing my shots one at a time. And that old cliche: One hole at a time; it's rather boring, but it's true. You have to stay in the present, and you can't get out of the present or you get in trouble. I try to stay with the tunnel vision thing.
Q. Did that pay off in Memphis?
TOM LEHMAN: In Memphis it helped. I tried to mind my own business. I played real well on Sunday, and I was happy with the way I played.
Q. Tom, I was hoping you could shift gears for a second. You're playing in Tom Watson's event next week in Kansas City. Could you talk about your relationship with him and how important the charity-type events are, because it's something that's also going on in Minnesota?
TOM LEHMAN: Tom is one of the people I've always looked up to in golf as a kid. Especially -- he's like ten years older than I am, so not that much older. When I was in high school and college, he was a star on the Tour and winning major championships. I always admired the way he played the game. He was definitely someone I looked up to as a player very much. The charity thing about it is -- just a lot of players do charitable things: I have a tournament, Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen. The list goes on of guys that have tournaments, and Tom has one, also. He played in my event and I'll play in his. It was an honor to be invited.
Q. Tom, everybody is talking about the course and it certainly seems to be a good U.S. Open course. In that sense does it surprise you that it's been 24 years they haven't had an Open here?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I guess it does, yeah. It's definitely one of the best courses in America, and it has been quite a dry spell. So, yes, the answer would be definitely.
Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''