Lehman Streaking Back to the Top


It was the year 2000 again. There was Tiger Woods, grinding, grinding, hanging around the lead until the leaders finally made a mistake. The past couple of years, Tiger was the one who finally caved it. This time, however, it was Tiger who played golfs version of the boa constrictor. Dont kill them with a sudden strike - just stay right on them, squeeze them little by little, finally just suffocate the life out of them.
That said, however, lets look at one of those who hung around with Tiger until the end - Tom Lehman. Lehman is best known as the new U.S. Ryder Cup captain. But he ever so quietly is making some very big steps. Do you realize he hasnt finished out of the top 10 since October of last year ' a streak that has now reached five tournaments?
Actually, hes been on a roll since early in September, when he tied for fourth at the Canadian Open. The next event he tied for 17th at the Texas Open ' not bad for a guy who earlier in the season had knee surgery. But then began his top-10 string with a tie for second in Las Vegas, a tie for fourth in Greensboro, and a tie for sixth at Disney. And he began 2005 with a tie for ninth at Sony before almost ' what a sad word, almost ' winning at San Diego.
Lehman played the last two rounds with Woods, and though Lehman is 45, he learned something. An old dog DID learn a few new tricks.
Just watching him chip, trying to understand from just watching what his technique is and then working on that, Lehman said of the experience. Hes played alongside Tiger a number of times, but he says he always learns something.
Actually, the chipping lessons were just a minor part of the changeover that has affected Lehman since he finished T40 at The International early in August.
He took a month off in August and changed nearly everything. For one, he didnt touch a club for 3 weeks. He bundled up his family and took a vacation to Italy ' rented a villa in the middle of Tuscany with some friends and played the role of tourist. To me there's no better way to get away from all the worries of the world and try and enjoy something like that. To me it was one of the greatest places I've ever been, he said.
But theres so much more. For one, he had the knee surgery in the middle of the year to repair a badly damaged tendon. And when he went to Canada after his Italian retreat, he changed the orthotics in his shoe ' his knee felt a million times better immediately.
The pain went away, so I actually was able to play pain-free for the first time in a long, long time. Legs are everything in the golf swing, and if you're sore, if your feet are hurting or your ankle or your knees, it's tough to make aggressive swings, 72 holes straight.
And golf? He changed drivers. And then he went back to the long putter. After the sabbatical in Italy, he came to the Canadian Open and shot 2-over the first round using the standard version. The next day he went to the broomstick roller, shot a 64 on Saturday, and has never changed back.
Maybe, he said, it was simply a by-product of reaching the age of 40. He used to be absolutely deadly from six feet in, but in time he began missing a few. The 40-somethings do some baffling things, he admitted, and Lehman was exhibit A. Lehman himself has seen it all to often when a golfer reaches that certain age.
They want to improve their driving or their iron play and they think theyve got to change their swing. And before you know it, they have lost their game, he said. And that is what happened with my putting. I tried to improve my putting by changing my method and I completely lost my putting stroke. So, therefore, the long putter.
The net effect of all these changes was a marked change in attitude. Life was good, he said. I struggled the first day (of the Canadian), but played great the last three almost entirely because of the fact that there's a whole - the positive feelings you have about what's going on around you. It has a huge impact on how you perform.
Lehman is now at a stage where he no longer is satisfied with good showings. He wants a victory. A questioner asked him about the strong showings over the past four months, and Lehman refused to take any props over Sundays loss, even if it was to Tiger.
I'm sick of strong showings, quite frankly, said a downcast Lehman. I'm disappointed. I'm very disappointed. I'm really ticked off that I didn't win. '
Tiger, though, appeared on the verge of again doing it by acting like Houdini with the short game. There were a lot of golfers who were miffed that they didnt pull it out. But maybe Woods legend is about to be resume.
I have to give him a lot of credit, because he definitely didn't play his best golf this week, said Lehman.
Tom Lehman is back, though. Five straight tournaments ought to say something.
Email your thoughts to George White