Captain or Competitor - Which Way

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Well sir, this thing about Tom Lehman making the Ryder Cup as a player is getting more interesting by the day. As you know, hes captain of the U.S. team. And Tom Lehman is beginning to play very good golf. Which leads us to this potential problem ' can Lehman make it to Ireland as both a competitor AND a captain?
 
His last three events have been a T7 at Pebble Beach, T7 at Nissan and a fourth in the Match Play. He now stands 10th ' yep, 10th - on the Ryder Cup list. Lehman is healthy at last, he has rebounded from a lot of bad habits picked up when he was trying to protect an injured shoulder and knee, and he looks suspiciously as if he might be the real thing.
 
The last time the U.S. had a playing captain was 44 years ago when Arnold Palmer led the Yanks in 1963. The Ryder Cup was nothing like what it is now, not with all the commercialization and all the functions that a captain now has to perform. It was easy to do both at that time. Now, it would be virtually impossible. Which leads us to the interesting discussion of what would Lehman do if such a thing occurred.
 
It would be the achievement of a goal that I've accepted myself, so it would be very satisfying in that regard, said Lehman, who defeated Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, defending champion David Toms and Chad Campbell in the Match Play before finally losing. I've done a lot of work to try to prepare myself for this year, and I feel like already at this early stage it's paying off I really don't see any reason why I can't continue to improve and why I can't have a legitimate shot at making the team.
 
Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts have been designated assistant captains by Lehman. It is assumed they would get the big majority of the work should Lehman indeed be an automatic qualifier.
 
A similar situation happened at the last Ryder Cup when it looked for awhile like Euro captain Bernhard Langer might play his way onto the squad. Youll remember then that there was a certain amount of squabbling among the Europeans about whether Langer should have taken the captaincy or should pass it on. Who knows what will happen in America ' should the PGA have given it to Larry Nelson? To Mark OMeara? Paul Azinger? Fred Couples? Perhaps Pavin himself?
 
But that is a debate that will have to wait until later in the year. And if Lehman is still close to the top 10 by mid-year, it will surely become fodder for debate.
 
Lehman said just recently that it should not be a problem. I've been saying all along, we want to field the 12 best players that the U.S. has to offer, whoever they are, he told a teleconference before the Nissan. And so if I happen to fall within - for me it would have to be top 10. I would never pick myself, if I were at all sane. We simply want the 12 best guys, whoever they are.

He said that he would have to see a Lehman victory before he even entertained the idea. But that was before last week. If he continues to stack up top-10 against top-10, hes eventually going to have to question whether a team without Tom Lehman on it would be better than a team with him on it.
 
Lehman, of course, has an ingredient that every coach has always wanted ' he fights and scraps and struggles to win. Hes been on three Ryder Cups already, and in every one his will to win has stood out. Call him what you want, but he has a competitiveness that manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to surrender in these type matches.
 
Of course, that trait has been the calling card of a few too many wild-card picks the past 10-12 years. Paul Azinger Steve Pate Fred Couples Curtis Strange Lanny Wadkins. All were ultimate competitors whose best golf had passed them by. So the last thing Lehman wants is to pick a feisty guy who just cant compete at the top any longer.

But if he can still do it, he should be a player and not a boss. And more and more, hes looking like a player.
 
You get to a point in your career where you either decide it's time to get serious and make some changes - or you quit, Lehman said last week.
 
I love golf too much and there's too much to play for to quit. I only had one option, and that was to get serious about fitness and rededicate myself to that and my game, and to work harder
 
There's nothing like a team event to bring up passion and emotion in the players and the fans, and therefore I think it's the biggest, greatest spectacle in golf, the Ryder Cup. I would love to be a part of it as both a captain and a player. If it doesn't work out that way, I can accept that and I get to be there either way.
 
Sounds like Lehman has been dreaming about it at length, too. While on the one hand he pooh-poohs it as mere fantasy, he himself is starting to think seriously about it. And if he continues to stay in contention for a playing spot, Lehman says he will consider not playing in the European Open at the K Club ' as he currently has planned ' and play in the Western Open in the hope of picking up Ryder Cup points.
 
Lehman has won only five times in his career, but included in those wins are a British Open, a Tour Championship, a Memorial, a Colonial and a Phoenix. He has been injured almost all of the 2000s, but now its beginning to come back to him.
 
Yeah, my game - it's probably as close as it's been in a while, he said. My game then, every shot came out of the barrel the same way. Everything I hit was a bit of a push draw, and if I tried to get a fade it went dead straight.
 
So I really, really had control over where my golf ball was going to go, especially off the tee. I put it in play or the fairway or the first cut so often. My iron game was sharp and I would do well just by hitting great shot after great shot after great shot. I could get away with being a streaky putter.
 
Tee to green I'm getting closer to that again. I've been quite a ways away from there and I'm getting closer.
 
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