Lehmans Terms Include Winning

RSS

The neck twitches and the shoulders shrug. He eyes his target, pulls some slack into his shirtsleeves and prepares to lunge the bulk of his near 200 pounds into that readied projectile.
 
Even without clear definition, the backlit image is unmistakable.
 
Tom Lehman is playing the ninth hole at the Palm Course in Round 1 of the Funai Classic. Its his final hole of the day, in his final event of the year.
 
He makes par, signs his scorecard, obliges fans with a few autographs and is on his way to take his wife and kids to wherever they desire to go inside the Magic Kingdom.
 
Until he is approached by a solitary scribe with a pen and a pad.
 
Lehmans expression is best described as one of bewilderment ' a You want to talk to me? look.
 
The lone reporter asks Lehman if he has a minute to talk.
 
He balks for a second, and then answers in an if-we-can-talk-while-we-walk sort of way.
 
The response is abrupt, but not curt. He has better places to be, and fatherly duties of which to attend.
 
And anyone who has ever before talked to Tom Lehman knows thats as close to rude as Tom Lehman gets.
 
Lehman is an overly congenial man. But even his temperament was greatly tested in 2003.
 
This was the year of the veteran player on the PGA Tour, with 11 different players aged 40 and above posting at least one victory.
 
There was Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry, and Craig Stadler and Peter Jacobsen, and Bob Tway and John Huston. There was Scott Hoch and Fred Couples, and J.L. Lewis and Kirk Triplett, and even Tommy Armour III.
 
Nowhere was there Tom Lehman.
 
The 44-year-old failed to win on tour for the third consecutive season. He had but two top-10 finishes and missed more cuts ' six ' than he had in a single year since 1985.
 
The tension that continually knots in his shoulders just got greater and more difficult to lessen as the season wore on.
 
Id say its been a frustrating year, Lehman said flatly. Im not really happy with the way I finished up this year.
 
His 15th season on the PGA Tour started off promisingly when he finished runner-up to Davis Love III in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
 
Unfortunately, he peaked at Pebble.
 
Lehman cracked the top 20 only twice after February. He missed the cut in the Masters and PGA Championship; tied for 46th in the one major he has won, the British Open (1996); and didnt even qualify for the U.S. Open, where he cemented his blue-collar, laborious image.
 
Statistically, Lehman performed on par compared to his previous few years. Mind you, hes won just once (2000 Phoenix Open) since his PGA Tour Player of the Year campaign in 1996.
 
He was best at hitting greens in regulation ' where he ranked eighth on tour, and fared worst in putting ' where he broomhandled his way to 108th.
 
Those two categories have always been his crest and trough.
 
But this year there was one torpedo that sunk Lehmans battleship ' a product of his poor putting.
 
Bogeys, he said. Just made a lot of bogeys, something Ive never done before. Beating myself more than anything.
 
And while Lehman was struggling just to get into contention on a weekly basis, others in his age bracket were winning and contending regularly.
 
Im not surprised that those guys that have had good years had good years. Age is mostly in your mind, I think, said the five-time winner on tour. And I think that there is a lot more for guys to stay motivated for. So the guys getting up there in their years still have a lot of motivation to play.
 
And I feel the same way. Theres no reason why I cant step my game up.
 
Motivation has never been a problem for this dogged performer. Not for a man who played on nearly every continent and every tour until becoming a fixture on the primary circuit. Certainly not for a man who has dodged every dart thrown his way, and reached the pinnacle of his profession when he became the No. 1 player in the world in 1997.
 
Im proud of myself that I worked real hard, but disappointed that my game didnt make improvements the last couple months of the year, Lehman said of his 2003 season.
 
Im looking forward to taking some time off and working on it, and having a better year next year.
 
Lehmans off-season started as soon as he putted out on the 72nd hole at Disney to tie for 24th.
 
That gives him a solid two and a half months before he tees it up again competitively at the Sony Open in January.
 
Until then, his primary role will be one as father/husband. But hell still tinker and toy; hell practice and prepare.
 
Hell roll up those shoulders, lurch that neck, pull up those shirtsleeves and forcefully launch his bulk into hundreds and hundreds of tiny, dimpled golf balls.
 
And maybe next year there wont be quite as much tension to work out.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs