SAN FRANCISCO – Charles Schwab Cup points leader Tom Lehman’s right knee gave him so much trouble last year that several close friends suggested he undergo replacement surgery.
He resisted, went skiing instead and now stands on the cusp of history on the Champions Tour.
Lehman, 382 points ahead of Mark Calcavecchia entering the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, can wrap up the points race and become the first player to earn player of the year honors on the PGA, Nationwide and Champions tours with a strong finish at TPC Harding Park.
Not a bad spot to be, particularly for someone who nearly gave up on his career more than 20 years ago before it even got off the ground.
“All I know is if Tom Lehman plays the way he’s capable of playing, he’s going to be a happy guy on Sunday win or lose,” Lehman said. “I can’t control what everybody else might do but I can control what I do. Any time you start thinking about the result before you get on the playing field you’re in big trouble.”
Lehman, a three-time winner this year, didn’t need results to know his sore knee needed a break after limping through 14 events on the Champions Tour in 2010.
Fred Funk, who had knee replacement surgery in 2009, was among those who told Lehman to consider having a similar procedure.
Instead, Lehman took his family on a four-day ski trip to Colorado, and at some point, the pain in his knee went away.
“That’s the truth, I’m not exaggerating one bit,” Lehman said. “My knee was in so much pain and they were talking replacement. So I went skiing. When I left that ski resort and got back home my knee felt great.”
Peter Senior, John Cook and Russ Cochran also are in contention for the season title and $1 million annuity, with points doubled for the 50-and-over tour’s final stop.
History is definitely on Lehman’s side.
In the past 10 seasons, the points leader heading into the final event - limited to the top 30 on the money list - has hung on to win the overall title nine times. Tom Watson was the lone exception when he won the Schwab Cup tournament and overtook Dana Quigley for the points championship.
Lehman was the player of the year on the Nationwide Tour - then known as the Hogan Tour - in 1991, one year after nearly stepping away from the game for good. Five years later, he earned the same honor on the PGA Tour.
Now Lehman’s going for the hat trick.
“There is a big asterisk with that, being that I’m one of the first generation of guys that even has a chance to do that,” Lehman said. “It’ll happen (again) in the future.”
He’s not the only one trying to get in the record books this weekend.
Cook has won this tournament the past two years and can join Jim Thorpe as the only three-time winners. If he can repeat and Lehman finishes in a two-way tie for fifth place or worse - which is exactly what happened in 2010 - Cook can also win the overall title.
Calcavecchia, who has 14 top-10 finishes this season and was second at the AT&T Championship on Oct. 16, has the best chance at overtaking Lehman in one of the handful of scenarios that could play out over the weekend
“If I have a chance to win the tournament heading into Sunday, then I’ll pay attention to what Tom’s doing,” Calcavecchia said. “Basically I’ve got to win to have any chance. After that it really doesn’t matter.”
Calcavecchia will have to do better than he did here last year when he tied for last place, 23 shots behind Cook.
That was in his first year on the Champions circuit when Calcavecchia, then 50, was also playing regularly on the PGA Tour. Now that he’s spending more time with the seniors, the results have been impressive.
Not even a sore back - the result of a gardening mishap this week - could break Calcavecchia’s mood.
“I was doing great on it until a chunk of sod would not come out,” Calcavecchia said. “I went to give it the heave-ho up and then my back went heave-ho. It felt like something just snapped. But it’s all right.”