No Experience No Problem for Lehman

By Mercer BaggsAugust 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' Tom Lehman was wondering why it took so long.
It took all of two questions, he said Wednesday. I thought that was for sure No. 1. Im actually a little disappointed.
Lehman, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, met with the media on the eve of the 88th PGA Championship. But while he had plenty to say on this day, what he says this coming Monday will bear far more significance.
Davis Love III
Davis Love III is one of many players this week trying to earn his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
It is on that day, at 9:00 a.m. local time, that Lehman will reveal his two captains selections. And, as he said, it took all of two questions in this session to ask if one of those two picks might be used on himself.
Earlier in the year when I was playing extremely well, I thought this was possible, he said about being the first player-captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963. I was putting well and hitting it decently. Over the last three or four, five months, Ive hit it very well and putted very poorly. The Ryder Cup is all about the short game, really.
In some ways, I feel Id be a detriment to our team because my putting is streaky.
Lehman said he was cornered Tuesday by Chris DiMarco, who is currently sixth in the U.S. points standings and is all but a lock to make the team. DiMarco told him that he and other team members agreed that Lehman had to play if he qualified.
I go, Well, thats really nice, but I am the captain and I get to make that decision, Lehman said with a smile.
Lehman almost wrapped up a spot on his own team last week at The International. He lost in a playoff and moved to 19th in the current standings. A win would have put him in seventh place with just one qualifying tournament remaining.
The PGA Championship is the last chance for U.S. players to earn points for the Ryder Cup. The top 10 on the points list will automatically qualify for the team, which will try and win back the Cup from the Europeans Sept. 22-24 in Dublin, Ireland.
The European team will be finalized three weeks after the PGA.
As of now, the top 5 players on the U.S. list are guaranteed a spot on the team ' Tiger Woods; Phil Mickelson; Jim Furyk; Chad Campbell; and David Toms, who said Wednesday that he is nearly 100 percent healthy after dealing with a back injury. DiMarco is almost a certainty at sixth.
But the final four spots are up for grabs.
And the final four spots are currently held by would-be Ryder Cup rookies.
Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich, respectively, occupy positions 7-10. Just beyond them are a few other players with no Ryder Cup experience: John Rollins at No. 11; Jerry Kelly at No. 13; and Lucas Glover at No. 14.
Lehman, however, isnt concerned that his team might consist of a quartet of first-timers.
Ive been saying all along, when it comes to the Ryder Cup, there was a time when Jack (Nicklaus) was a rookie, there was a time when (Tom) Watson was a rookie, there was a time when (Hale) Irwin, (Fred) Couples, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer ' they were all rookies at one time, he said.
So the idea of not having experience does not scare me at all.
Experience, Lehman said, isnt always a good thing ' not when that experience consists of nothing but defeat.
The U.S. has lost four of the last five Ryder Cup Matches, including an embarrassing 18 - 9 defeat on American soil two years ago.
But, the Yanks got big boost of confidence last year, when they won back the Presidents Cup over the International team. Lehman paid close attention to that contest and called it a very important victory for the Americans. He believes that the attitude the U.S. players displayed that week needs to transfer over in order for them to reverse the tide in this biennial competition.
When the American team won the Presidents Cup, I kind of felt like, you know what, thats one ' thats one off the list. Weve got one more to go. And so that was motivating to me, said Lehman, who has played on three Ryder Cup teams, including the last victorious squad in 1999.
To see them play well was important. To see the style in which they played was more important. They played very aggressively, they were loose, they had fun.
Enjoying oneself, Lehman believes, is essential to winning. Thats something he picked up from legendary basketball coach John Wooden when the two met earlier this year.
His whole things was, if you dont have fun, youre not going to love it, and if you dont love it, youre not going to work hard enough to be successful, Lehman shared.
The U.S. team has always seemed to play like they are afraid of losing something that they dont have, he added. The Cup isnt ours; its theirs. So that puts us in a different role, I think. We may be the underdogs.
That may well be the case given the Americans recent track record in the Ryder Cup. But, regardless of how many first-timers make this years team, they still have the top 3 players in the world in Woods, Mickelson and Furyk.
Thats important, said Lehman. Those guys are champions. I think they are going to bring that champion mentality to the rest of the team, whoever they might be.
Exactly. There are a myriad of possibilities, a bevy of players who could earn their way onto Lehmans team by weeks end.
The winner of the PGA will earn 675 points. Wetterich, currently in 10th place, has only amassed 746 points over the last two years. That means its possible for Robert Gamez, at 104th, to still make the team.
As for those with a more realistic chance, theyre trying their best to narrow down their focus to the immediate task at hand.
Theres one more week to win a tournament,' said No. 9 Johnson, who held the 54-hole lead at The International before ultimately finshing outside the top 10 and not earning any Ryder Cup points. 'Thats my thought process.'
Ive focused on (making the team) in the past and I didnt do well in tournaments. If I do well in the tournaments then the Ryder Cup takes care of itself, said No. 13 Kelly, who skipped the last two events to better prepare for this final trial.
No. 11 Rollins, who missed the cut while playing the first two rounds alongside Lehman last week, shares Kelly's approach. Im I focused on the PGA and trying to win the PGA. If I do that, then good things will happen,' he declared.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
Its tough. I just need to go play. Ive been thinking about points too much, said No. 15 Davis Love III, who has played on every Ryder and Presidents Cup team since 1993.
I know I can help out. I know I can add some experience. But you want to take the best players.
As to who Lehman will select with his two discretionary picks is anyones guess.
Even his.
Im going to be completely honest with you and say I dont have the first clue right now who Im going to pick, he said.
I dont want to sound like Im clueless about what Im looking for. Im just saying that theres about four or five or six guys that I think could really fit.
Which means Lehman will be as much spectator this week as competitor.
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    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    More bulletin board material, too.

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