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Lehman Looks to Defend in Senior PGA Championship


Tom Lehman won his first major on the Champions Tour in last year's Senior PGA Championship. A year ago at Colorado Golf Club, the Minnesota native beat Fred Couples and David Frost in a playoff.

Currently the hottest player on the over-50 circuit, Lehman has already won three times this year. Those titles include his second Champions Tour major, the Regions Tradition, which he also won in a playoff, this time over Peter Senior.

His quest to repeat in the Senior PGA Championship, which starts Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, will involve overcoming one of the year's top fields that boasts 155 other players.

On Wednesday, the five-time winner - including his first major, the 1996 British Open - on the PGA Tour sat down with the media and discussed his chances to repeat. Here's what the likable Lehman had to say.

MODERATOR: Tom Lehman, ladies and gentlemen, the defending champion of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Tom won the 2010 Senior PGA Championship in a one hole playoff at Colorado Golf Club over David Frost and Fred Couples. Tom, welcome back to Valhalla. Comments on being the defending champion and on the course from what you've seen so far.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, it definitely is great to be playing in this championship. Such a great event. The golf course is going to be a real test. I'm sure you heard it from everybody whose been in here. It's playing long, there's no roll, the wind I think may be the crucial factor quite frankly on how the scores go, but it's going to be along, tough difficult golf course.

MODERATOR: Can you reflect a moment of on what it meant to win last year at Colorado Golf Club.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, yeah, definitely to win the PGA Senior Championship, that was a big step for me. I felt like it was -- I had won with Bernhard Langer at the Legends of Golf and had yet to win an individual title. So getting that, first of all, getting an individual title meant a lot, and secondly to have it be a major and this one in particular because of the quality of the course, the quality of the field, my relationship with the PGA of America, all those things kind of created the perfect win for me. So it was something that I look back and I have a lot of great memories about.

MODERATOR: Open it up for questions.

Q. I was curious, with so many guys that have withdrawn for various injuries, what's your training regimen like and what do you do to kind of try and prevent, hedge that over before it happens?

TOM LEHMAN: I haven't really been paying attention to whose withdrawn. But injuries are a part of the game. I think, first of all, I think my swing is pretty easy on my body. So I have, I think I have avoided a lot of the nagging injuries that a lot of guys have with their back. Things like that. I have knee issues, but I try to stretch. I stretch every day. That's the big thing is trying to keep my body loose and limber so I can make swings without kind of pushing it to the limit where you get hurt. But as you get older, those things happen and you just, that's just the truth of the matter.

Q. There have been a number of changes made to the course since the last time a major championship was played here, just wondering what your thoughts were on them and what in particular's making the course play more difficult.

TOM LEHMAN: I think, first of all, you play practice rounds, you play the pro-am yesterday and the tees are all the way back yesterday, so the course played super, super long. I think you combine that with some of the changes they made in particularly to the greens where the greens are have a lot of movement within the green. It's those newer holes, it creates a situation where you're hitting long shots to really tough small putting areas within the greens. So the 6th hole for example, there's no way to get it closer than about 215 to the middle of green. So yesterday was 3-wood, 3-wood for me and even if I hit a great 3-wood or a great tee shot it's still going to be a rescue. And the green has a lot of movement so it's hard to get it in the right spot to get a good putt at it even if you do hit the green. And there's a few greens like that. The big thing is the length. The length, because there's no roll, just making you hit longer shots to tough greens and you kind of go right down the line with every green out there and you realize that hey, I would rather be hitting a 9-iron or a 7-iron or a 7-iron than a 5-iron and that's kind of where we're at right now.

Q. Can you talk about how your confidence has been affected perhaps by such a great start to the Champions Tour season. You've won more really than you probably ever won in a season, this early certainly.

TOM LEHMAN: My confidence really started to grow a few years ago. I felt like I started to play consistently well week after week after week. And my results were good, but they weren't great. They were solid stuff that I was very pleased with, but to me that was really the issue was is, starting at about age 49, just kind of started to really get back my, the consistency I had earlier in my career where every time I teed it up I felt like I was going to be in the game. So my confidence grew, but more than that I think the trust in my game, knowing that I don't have to play my best to score well and so today, where I'm at today I just feel like I may not play well, but I expect to play well and I certainly am not afraid to play poorly. So I just go play.

MODERATOR: For the record, Tom's already won three times on the Champions Tour this year. With two other top-five finishes.

Q. Do you think on, as on the regular Tour, when a course is difficult it really sort of limits, narrows the field a bit and the top players longer players certainly this week will be at an advantage?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I think that the crucial factor this week is course setup. Kerry always does a really good job, so I'm sure he'll do a really good job this week. I never believed that length alone should be a determining factor. If you can hit it long or short you should have to hit it straight, but whether you hit it long or short and straight you should be able to have a chance to win. So I'm sure the tees will get moved forward some and give everybody who plays well, who can put it in play and putt well a chance to win this thing. But typically when, to me, when the course gets soft, it brings more guys into the mix. It's when the courses get really firm and fast and bouncy that the field starts to really spread out. So I'm sure combining with Kerry's experience with setting up courses and fact that it's soft, it actually gives more guys a chance.

Q. Could you talk about the 18th hole? How do you normally play it and do you go for it in two most times you play it?

TOM LEHMAN: Well I definitely would like to go for it. It's short enough where I would feel way better about chipping to that green versus hitting a wedge. So it's all about the tee shot. If I hit a good tee shot there I'm going to be able to reach the green. And as is most cases, there's places to miss the green and there's places where you can't. So that's the strategy of the hole is, where's the pin, where can I miss it, and so if I can go for the green and go at such away that I can miss it in a place where I can easily chip to the pin I think I'm way better off. So I think it's really a green light type hole where you go for it if you can.

Q. And how about the 6th hole?

TOM LEHMAN: That's even a tougher hole.

Q. I was going to say. And how glad are you that it's early in the round and that it's not one of the closing holes. And how do you play that hole?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I would say the 6th hole I think is easily the hardest hole out here. Not even close. If you can make three pars and a bogey you're going to be beating the field. If you can make four pars you're going to pick up two, two and a half shots probably on the field. Who knows. But just make a four. How do you make a four. That's how I look at that. How do you make a four on this hole.

Q. What do you hit in there?

TOM LEHMAN: 3-wood yesterday, a 3-wood off the tee and a 3-wood to the green. So it's, I mean you just, to me you just, you try to put the ball in the middle of the green or somewhere to the right of the green where you can chip and do your best to make a four. If you get lucky enough to make a three, you're picking up a shot and a half on the field.

Q. We had Ken Green in here earlier. Can you kind of comment on how amazing it is what he's able to do. It's hard enough just to play, he's out there playing with one leg.

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah well, wow, I'm not even sure what to say about that. I think he's just a testimony to the strength of a human spirit. Just the things that he's had to go through and deal with and then to keep fighting and keep pushing forward, to be out here playing, that's, you talk about how do you define success? Well that's how you define it right there. It's usually, in most cases, especially in golf, it's not about riding the wave, but it's more about picking yourself up and trying again. Because you fall down a lot in this game and in this life and so do you have the courage to pick yourself back up and keep going. And he has. So to me in some ways I don't care who wins the tournament the real success might be Ken Green.

MODERATOR: You had an opportunity to continue a tradition last night hosting the Champions Dinner at the Muhammad Ali Center. Can you talk a little about that what kind of food you had and what kind of gifts and just the overall tone of the evening.

TOM LEHMAN: Well we definitely ate well. I got to pick the menu and the theme of the night was kind of thinking about Memorial Day coming up and so it was kind of like pure Americana, the 4th of July in May type thing. Just what this country is and red, white and blue. That kind of thing. So everything that happened had to do with my experiences of my favorite 4th of July. It was in May and having a big thing on the beach with lobsters cooking in the sand with everything and barbecuing steaks. And so that's what we had for dinner.

I got to give a gift and it was a working with a buddy of mine named victor Juhasz, who actually went to Afghanistan with this past year to visit the troops there to come up with a shirt that Tommy Bahama made for us. I wear Tommy Bahama clothing, so they produced a shirt based on Vic's art work, he's an artist, that just kind of gives the message of, we appreciate the sacrifices that people have made in order for us to chase our dreams. And so I gave a shirt to the players and the people the PGA of America officials, the sponsors, all the guys got that shirt. The women got red, white and blue beach blankets and bags and everything so it was all about showing your appreciation for this great country.

MODERATOR: What's that night like with 11, 10 other champions Senior PGA champions and PGA champions in a room in terms of what's said, stories that are swapped that kind of thing.

TOM LEHMAN: Well there weren't as many stories swapped. There's things that we have done with the PGA of America where there's a lot of stories that get thrown around, but last night was more about I think just celebrating being here, the championship, the history of the championship, and so to be in a room with guys like Hale Irwin and Jay Haas and all the champions that were there last night it adds a lot of just a lot of feel good thing where you appreciate them and you really share a night as individuals versus being competitors and let people know how much you respect them and admire them and appreciate them.

Q. As you guys get older is there still the same amount of competitive edge as there was when you were younger playing for these major championships?

TOM LEHMAN: I think absolutely, yes. I think everybody who is here is feeling they have a chance to win and they have been working hard on their game and they're coming here to try to win. I think the nice thing about the Champions Tour is there's, for, if you're a top player, you have way more chances to win. And that makes golf fun again. I love playing on the PGA Tour and I still feel like I'm competitive out there, but very, very few chances to win. A lot of 13th to 35th place finishes and that's even though it's fun trying to be your best and play it's no fun feeling like you're just out there playing to finish 15th versus 20th. And so I think the guys out here have gotten a taste again of winning and they play really hard, they play to win and it makes it way more fun again.

Q. This goes along with that you've won five times on the Champions Tour so far, but if you look at the list, there are a lot of former PGA Tour winners who have not won yet on the Champions Tour. Some guys have played a hundred events or close to that. Why do you think that is? Is it because the competition is so strong or what happens to them?

TOM LEHMAN: I think there's a combination of things. I definitely think there's some guys who may work harder than another guy. I think there's definitely some of that. I'm not saying that guys don't work hard, I'm just saying that everybody's different and I see a lot of guys still working really hard and so I don't know what other guys who haven't won what their work ethic might be. But that could be part of it. I think part of it is physical. I think some guys are in better shape, some guys are not dealing with minor injuries like other guys might be. I think that as you get older that the short game gets a little less sharp. The ability to score becomes a little bit less sharp and some guys are able to maintain that longer.

So I think there's all kind of things which go into it. But I think like anything else, the longer you go without winning, the more pressure you end up putting on yourself to win. So I think that becomes an issue as well. You're 50, you come out here, there's expectations, hey, the young guys should be winning more and you don't. And I think that goes like, well, why are you not winning and you say, why am I not winning and you start pushing it and forcing it and before you know it you've gone a 100 tournaments without winning. Golf's still a big head game.

Q. How about the mental side? Each year you don't win do you look at the window getting shorter and shorter?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I think there is that. I think that guys see the end of their career and they see the end of being competitive. To me that's the issue is there's, at some point you become less competitive both because you're older and because there's guys who are younger who are coming in who are better. So you have this window of opportunity and you got to take advantage of it. But everybody's different. There's reasons for playing and I think some guys may play just because they like to play and hang out with the guys. Some guys are playing just because they want to win and they want to be get those trophies. Some guys are playing because who knows why. So I think there's a variety of reasons, but one thing I do know for certain is that it's very competitive and the guys who are out here who, the top players, are still really, really good and you got to play really well to beat them.

Q. This community has been great about the supporting the different events and you played in a couple of them here. As a competitor what does that add to your experience for a week, what does it add to a tournament when you can sense that the entire community is behind it other than having to go out there and sign more autographs and things like that?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, it means a lot. We have gone a few places this week where a lot of folks have approached me and wished me luck and let me know that they hope I play well or whatever and so to be in a community where you feel that kind of support for the event and have the folks be that connected to it, it means a great deal. You come here and you see the setup, the tents, the leader boards and the number of people who are out here, that all adds to that feeling of, hey, I'm at someplace special. And then knowing the history of Valhalla and this city hosting PGA Championships and then the Ryder Cup a few years ago, there's just that knowledge that this is a Major Championship venue, this is a place where big things happen and the fans remind you of that every where you go.

MODERATOR: Defending champion Tom Lehman. Thank you very much.

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah. Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of the ASAP Sports.