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Lehman Looking for Good Results this Week in U.S. Senior Open
With three titles each, Tom Lehman and John Cook are the top winners on the Champions Tour this year. Lehman leads the over-50 circuit in earnings, with $1,320,270, $260,000 more than Cook.
With those kinds of numbers, Lehman, a 52-year-old from Minnesota, is one of the favorites in the U.S. Senior Open, which starts Thursday at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Lehman's earlier victories came in the Allianz Championship in February, the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in April, and in the Champions Tour's first major - the Regions Tradition in May. The latest win was Lehman's fifth overall on the senior circuit.
Lehman doesn't have much familiarity with the Inverness Club, a Donald Ross design that opened in 1918 and was later remodeled by Arthur Hills in 1999. The par-71 course can be stretched over 7,200 yards, but it will play around 7,100 yards for the seniors. It also has a unique configuration, with a par-37 front nine and a par-34 back.
Like all of its championship set-up ups, for this event the USGA uses the philosophy of: "The U.S. Senior Open should be the most rigorous, the most difficult, yet fair, test in senior championship golf, an examination which tests both the players' physical capabilities and tenacities, and of course all mental capabilities and shot making."
In a press conference Wednesday from Inverness Club, Lehman professed to playing the course once before, but his memory is hazy. "I've only played here once before in '93 and it was not a memorable experience," he said. "I didn't play well. I don't remember anything about the golf course. Really don't recall anything about the way I played. Couldn't tell you if it was firm, if it was soft, if it was high rough or no rough. The whole week was a blur."
Here's what else Lehman, who will be paired in the first round with Jeff Sluman and Jay Haas, had to tell reporters during his Q&A Wednesday morning.
MODERATOR: Good morning. We'd like to welcome Tom Lehman to the media center. Tom's playing in his third Senior Open. In 2009 he finished tied for 8th, and in 2010, tied for 12th. Having a good season so far on the Champions Tour, three wins. Tom, tell us a little bit as an opening how your game is shaping up and how you're feeling you're ready for the Senior Open?
TOM LEHMAN: My game is actually pretty solid. I played the last two weeks over in the U.K. at the British Open and the Senior Open Championship. I didn't really get the results that I was hoping for in either of them, you know. But my game is pretty sharp. My putting has been a little bit erratic, and I think that's what the big issue is with me is I need to hit the ball in the hole a little bit quicker.
Q. Obviously back-to-back Opens again this year, but not quite the time change worry that it was last year. Do you think it will be any kind of a problem this week for anybody?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think this is like my third major in a row. So I think at some point you start to get a little bit tired. However, with this being the Senior U.S. Open, I think you can put off being tired till next week. I don't think the time change will be a big factor. It's much easier to go from Europe to the U.S., so I don't think that's going to be an issue for anyone.
Q. In terms of the length of this course, does it favor longer hitters, younger players, anything like that?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, that kind of sounds funny, younger players. It's all relative. You know, the greens are so small that I think it's going to reward a guy who can drive ball on the fairway and have really good course management. Whether you're long or you're short, I'm not sure that's going to be a huge factor as much as being able to really think your way around this golf course and putting the ball in the right spot. It does help, there is no doubt about it, it does help if you can hit it long and straight. But it's some of those long par-4s where you have to hit driver, and it's a 5-iron or 4-iron or something like that to approach the greens. I'd rather be hitting a 5-iron than a rescue club.
Q. You have an enviable record in U.S. Opens in particular, major championships in general. What is it about your mindset and your skill set that maybe made you so successful in those type of challenges?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I'm not as successful as I would have liked to have been. But I tend to play well. I think that major championships are as much about attitude as they are anything else. I will say that I feel like my attitude's been very, very good over the years. I enjoy the challenge. But the game itself I think plays into the strength of my game, which has always been tee to green, hitting the ball consistently in play and managing my game. Putting has always been the one thing that's been a bit more erratic. When I putt well, I do very well. When I putt poorly, I struggle to be in the game. So majors tend to put a real premium on putting 3- and 4-footers and putting it in play off the tee, and those are always things that I've done well.
Q. Can you give me your general impressions on the back nine, and the fact that there are no par-5s? Does that mean anything to you?
TOM LEHMAN: Not really, par is relative. For a par-71 golf course, unique in the par 37 and par 34. You know, but I've always just felt like when you have a great bunch of holes, it really doesn't matter what the par is and that's what you have up here. You have one that's par 34, which is a tremendous nine holes, and quite frankly you don't even realize why you're playing it, but there are no par-5s on that back nine. So, to me, it's insignificant. You know, it's good, and that's all that matters.
Q. When you think of the greens here, do they conjure up Harbour Town, Pebble? I mean, they're that small, aren't they?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, but they're - but they're way trickier than like a Harbour Town. They may be bigger, actually. Well, maybe not, but Harbour Town's much more flat surfaces. These just have these beautiful rolls within the green, and greens that are little sections that are separated by contouring. You have to really be on your game putting it in the right spot and understanding the strategy of the actual green complex because they tend to always have one side that you may recover from and one side that makes it very difficult. So knowing the greens is going to be a really important part of the game.
Q. Does the history of Inverness factor at all in your preparations? You say you've played well, and you've won at Inverness. Does that factor in at all?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think you only hold U.S. Opens on great courses. So to me it's not so much about Inverness, because it's a given that it wouldn't be here if it wasn't right. So it kind of goes hand in hand. Inverness, U.S. Open, they belong together. It's really a compliment, I think, to both the USGA and to Inverness that you put those two entities together like peanut butter and jelly.
Q. We've gotten quite a bit of rain around here lately and with the humidity is the course playing differently in terms of firmness, fastness?
TOM LEHMAN: I've only played here once before in '93 and it was not a memorable experience. I didn't play well. I don't remember anything about the golf course. Really don't recall anything about the way I played. Couldn't tell you if it was firm, if it was soft, if it was high rough or no rough. The whole week was a blur. One thing I do know is that practice rounds get you prepared for a golf course, which generally you don't see. You know, just because when the adrenaline starts pumping and you're in the heat of competition, you hit the ball farther. You know, it's like you think about, well, in the practice round I was driving it here, and now I'm 30 yards past it. That's typically what happens. The courses tend to play shorter as the week goes on. But right now, during practice, it's playing quite long.
MODERATOR: Tom, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it. And play well this week.
TOM LEHMAN: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.