Lehman Gets Ryder Cup Nod


Tom Lehman has realized a lot of his dreams as a PGA Tour player. Wednesday he achieved something even he never dreamed possible.
The PGA of America announced Wednesday that Lehman would be the man in charge of reversing American fortunes in the Ryder Cup, when the biennial matches resume for the 36th time at the K Club outside Dublin, Ireland Sept. 22-24, 2006.
'The Ryder Cup to me is the ultimate golf experience,' Lehman said at a news conference in Amelia Island, Fla. 'Including my British Open victory, my greatest moment in golf was being part of the Ryder Cup team. To be part of this next team, this is a thrill beyond belief.'
Lehman is a three-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member. He competed in 1995, 97 and 99, compiling a 5-3-2 record, including a flawless 3-0-0 mark in singles.
He was chosen to be the 24th different U.S. captain over the likes of Larry Nelson, Paul Azinger (who is considered the favorite for 2008), Corey Pavin, Mark OMeara and Fred Couples.
Lehman has a tall task ahead of him. The U.S. has lost four of the last five Ryder Cup Matches, and their latest defeat was by a record margin. Under the leadership of Hal Sutton, the heavily favored Americans fell mightily to the Europeans, 18 -9 , in September at Oakland Hills.
'We always go in as the favorites, but no matter how talented we are, how many major championships we've won, we always seem to have difficulty with the Ryder Cup,' Lehman said.
'For the first time ever, without disrespect to our players, the facts show we will be the underdogs, and that's fine with me.'
A native of Austin, Minn., Lehman qualified for the PGA Tour via Q-school in 1983. He played on tour from 1983-86, before spending the next six seasons playing in Asia, South Africa and other locations far more remote.
In 1991, he won three times on the now Nationwide Tour and was its money leader and player of the year. That got him back on the primary circuit, where hes since been a fixture.
Lehman has won five times on the PGA Tour, including the 1996 British Open. He was the 1996 player of the year and was ranked No. 1 in the world for one week in 97.
He hasnt won since the 2000 Phoenix Open, but played quite well at the end of this season, finishing with three consecutive top-10s.
The 45-year-old said he still holds out hope that he could qualify for the team in two years time, but added that he would only serve as a player-captain under the right circumstances.
'I'm looking for guys on top of their game, and winning is a big thing,' Lehman said. 'If I was winning, it would be unfair for me not to play. That said, what are the chances? Probably pretty slim.'
Lehman last participated in a Ryder Cup at Brookline in 1999. He was among those who led the charge onto the 17th green in celebration after Justin Leonards famous ' and infamous ' 45-foot birdie putt ' before Jose Maria Olazabal had a chance to putt out.
He said hes not worried about any backlash by the Irish fans.
Lehman will have other challenges. He will have to figure out with whom to pair Tiger Woods. Woods has had 10 different partners in four Ryder Cup appearances, and has compiled a 7-11-2 record (2-1-1 in singles).
He was one of the spearheads that we had a Valderrama and one of the leaders in the locker room at Brookline, so I think he'll do a great job, said Woods, who partnered with Lehman in foursomes in 1999.
Lehman will also be in discussion with the PGA of America as to if and how they may revise their qualification process. Players currently accrue points based on top-10 finishes, with more points awarded during a Ryder Cup year. PGA president M.G. Orender said changes may be made by the end of this year.
The European team is expected to announce their captain early next year.