In Lehmans Terms


Tom Lehman didnt back down from Nick Faldo. He didnt back down from Seve Ballesteros. And he didnt back down from Darren Clarke.
He has beaten all three in confrontational Ryder Cup play. And he wont shrink from the moment. He has that much in common with Hal Sutton, his predecessor as U.S. captain.
By any measurement, Tom Lehman is an excellent choice to lead the Americans against the Europeans at the K Club, an Arnold Palmer design near Dublin, when the Ryder Cup renews itself two years from now in the Republic of Ireland.
But Lehman knows his captaincy will be defined by how well his players perform in the matches. More specifically, his team will win, almost certainly, if it makes more putts than the Euros.
The team that makes more putts in Ryder Cup play invariably appears to be the team having more fun and displaying more camaraderie. Or as Don Kessinger, a man who once managed the Chicago White Sox, told me: Its hard to look like youre hustling when youre running back to the dugout after popping out to the second baseman.
The man left on the outside looking in on all of this is Larry Nelson. Nelson won three majors and went 5-0 in the 1979 Ryder Cup matches, including four-four against the legendary Ballesteros.
Nelson was seen as the favorite for the 2006 job after Paul Azinger removed himself from the running in recent weeks. Now that Lehman has been selected, it appears Nelsons only sin was being too old. He will be 59 when the teams tee it up in 2006.
To his credit, Nelson took the Lehman news with characteristic good grace and equanimity. Tom Lehman is a great guy, Nelson told me. He is very enthusiastic. Hes a great pick. Its my hope that he will do very well.
When I asked Nelson if he had any advice for Lehman, he answered indirectly. He referenced the fact that he would have been much older than his players and he said sometimes that can be a detriment and sometimes that can be a benefit.
Lehman will be 47 two years from now.
I think it comes to a point where things can kinda pass you by, Nelson said.
Lehmans task will be to keep himself removed enough from the players in the sense that he will be able to know that he isnt going to be able to keep all 12 happy all the time.
I believe a few of Suttons players let him down off the course at Oakland Hills in the Americans 18 -- 9 loss in September. But if Sutton made one mistake, it was trying to keep everybody happy once the matches began.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Nelson was gently reminding Lehman that captaining is an imprecise science. But just as players look for a consistent set of greens on the course, they will look for a consistent decision-making from their captain off the course.
If Tom Lehman doesnt back down from that concept, his captaincy will be a success.
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