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Lehman Named Champions Tour Player of the Year
Tom Lehman was named the Champions Tour's 2011 Player of the Year. The 52-year-old received the award after a vote by his peers on the over-50 circuit.
The Minnesota native won the money list title, becoming the only player on the Champions Tour to earn more than $2 million this season. He also won the season-long Charles Schwab Cup in addition to three tournaments, the Allianz Championship in February, the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in April and May's Regions Tradition, a Champions Tour major.
The latest POY award makes it a career sweep for Lehman, who was also the player of the year on the Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) when he was 31 years old, and, in 1996, he received the same honor on the PGA Tour when he won the money list title and two tournaments, including the British Open.
Lehman was proud to become the first player to win POY awards - and first to win money list titles on all three tours - at every step in his career as a touring professional. "I think it's . . . significant simply because it's a goal that I set," he said Wednesday. "I think anytime you set a goal that's a lofty goal, and this one was lofty because no one had done it before.
"I was aware of that, that one of my goals was to win Player of the Year on all three tours. Because of that reason, it's significant. It's the culmination of a journey. It's a journey that's been a lot of fun. There's no guarantees. There were no promises that I could achieve that. It took a lot of good playing and also some good fortune for me to win."
Also announced on Wednesday was Kenny Perry being named the Champions Tour's Rookie of the Year and Chip Beck the Comeback Player of the Year. Here's what Lehman had to say about receiving his third POY award.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody, for joining us. As you're all aware, we announced earlier today that Tom Lehman is the 2011 Champions Tour Player of the Year, so Tom is with us. Congratulations, Tom. Just before we get underway with some questions, just like to say congratulations on your victory last week in Mauritius, but obviously also congratulations on your award. You're the first player to win this accolade on all three tours. We also announced that Kenny Perry was named Rookie of the Year and Chip Beck was the Comeback Player of the Year on the Champions Tour. Three wins this year, Tom, No.1 on the Money List, Charles Schwab Cup winner. If we could have some comments from you, then we'll open it up for questions.
TOM LEHMAN: Thank you very much. It's very gratifying for me to be selected Player of the Year. It's a vote of your peers, from all the guys you play with and respect and admire so much. So for them to make that decision means a lot to me. I think we all appreciate the fact that other players respect your ability. To me that says a great deal and makes me feel really good that they think so much of my year to they would give me that honor, so I'm very, very pleased.
MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. You played in 29 events this year, which is the most you've played in many, many years. What went into the decision to play so much golf this year?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, part of it was tournaments that I really wanted to play in because they're fun to play in, some of the PGA Tour events, I think I played five. I played a couple after the season finished. I just got back from South Africa, a European Senior Tour event in Mauritius, a couple post season events in places that are special to my wife and I. Obviously, 21 on the Champions Tour. As the season progressed, it seemed like I just really wanted to play as much as I could to keep on pursuing the goal that I had set for myself. It ended up being a lot of golf this year, but it was a worthwhile year and very satisfying.
Q. How much of that was the fact that you started off well and wanted to keep playing?
TOM LEHMAN: I was always planning on playing at least 20 on the Champions Tour I think. I don't think I played any more or less on the Champions Tour than I would have otherwise. It's just the other ones I committed to play on the PGA, five of those, then three others throughout the year, kind of made the year become a bit more full than maybe I would have liked otherwise. I wasn't about to cut Champions Tour events certainly. It kind of ended up being what it was. I'm not sure I would play that many again. I certainly would cut others versus cutting Champions Tour events.
Q. Tom, what in the world is next for you? You won everything you can win in winning the three tours. What's next ahead?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, there's still a lot of golf to be played. I certainly have other goals that I've set for myself in terms of tournaments I'd like to win, things like that. But it was really one of the main goals I set for myself, was playing well enough to have a chance to win this award. Having achieved that means a lot. It means a great deal. But as a competitor, one of the goals is always to just keep on improving and keep on working, see if I can play better and better and better as each season goes on. We'll see where that takes me.
Q. Are you going to play some of the PGA Tour events next year?
TOM LEHMAN: I would play some. I would probably bet that I'd play three, maybe three or four, probably play another 20 on the Champions Tour, and keep the rest to a minimum. Last question was about playing 29. I won't do that again, I can assure you that. I might get 23 or 24 in.
Q. How about the 3M Championship?
TOM LEHMAN: I'll definitely be back for that.
Q. Are you coming back to Minnesota for other things, course design?
TOM LEHMAN: While there's snow on the ground, I don't think you'll see me. But I'll definitely be back in the spring. I think we're going to arrange something for Edina Country Club. We opened up the course, the renovation, sometime last summer. Never really had a chance to get up and take part in anything. So I'm going to try to arrange to do something at the beginning of the golf season at Edina.
Q. Windsong Farm, any comments about the closing?
TOM LEHMAN: That's really sad. I don't know what the deal was. I think there was some disagreement about people on the board on how to proceed. Hopefully out of this confusion will come something that's a little more stable, a game plan for the future. I certainly hope, for my brother's sake, that things work out.
Q. Winning all three is pretty good given the late start. I know you've been asked this before. When it was lean times before you found your foothold, how close were you to becoming a regular civilian, selling insurance, washing cars, bailing on this as a career?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I was getting pretty close obviously to having to make a choice. I was on the Hogan Tour at 31, getting ready to turn 32. There is a point where it seems you can get stuck. If you don't make a switch, you wake up one day in your 40s and you're still kind of chasing that dream. I certainly didn't want to be in that position. Somewhere in my early 30s there, age 31, it seemed like something had to happen, something had to change, and change quickly, in order for me to keep on going. That Hogan Tour was such a Godsend. Deane Beman will be one of my favorite people for having the vision to put that together because it certainly gave me a bit of a second chance. Very, very fortunate that things went well.
Q. Was it just the routine and the ritual of having a place to play week in and week out and learning how to be a professional on something more than just an intermittent basis?
TOM LEHMAN: I think the big thing about the Hogan Tour was I think there was no question, if you look at players who were not on the PGA Tour, who were playing on the mini tours, I was one of the top players doing that. It's just that one week of the year Tour School for me was such an obstacle. Having 30 weeks to prove myself versus one week was an incredible opportunity. I really believed, given a full year of play, I could prove myself to be one of the top players. That's why it was such a good thing. It took the pressure off of that one week and put it on the whole season. To me that was far less pressure and felt far more confident of getting back to the Tour that direction. Plus, on top of that, it was a way to relearn how to win, relearn how to handle the pressure that goes with it, a great preparation for the PGA Tour.
Q. At age 31, being in that position, now you've topped all three Money Lists, been No.1 in the world for a little bit, won a major, I can't imagine there's too many ornaments to be put on your Christmas tree?
TOM LEHMAN: There's always something. There's always, like I mentioned before, tournaments you really want to win. You always want to improve. I think for as long as I play, I'm going to continually work hard to get better. All the other guys out there playing are working hard trying to get better.
There's a lot of great players on the Champions Tour. I think one of the reasons I played consistently throughout the whole year is because there are so many good players and we all pushed each other. Whether it's Calcavecchia, Price, Cook, Corey Pavin, we all play a lot, you play together, you push a lot, you know you have to play well and score low. If I'm going to keep on competing, I need to keep on working. If I keep on working, I'm going to keep on improving. If you keep on improving, you don't know what's going to happen. That's the one thing I desire to do, is to stay focused, committed and keep working.
Q. You've been playing both tours for a while now. Can you briefly describe your feeling about the two tours, likes, dislikes, how they differ.
TOM LEHMAN: Well, they are a different animal, there's no question. In some ways they're very different. Every week the PGA Tour is such a big production, huge crowds, network TV, huge contributions to charity. So just a huge deal, big deal, big production. The Champions Tour, not quite as big a production, not as big of crowds. We're televised. It's just a little bit more laid back, I would say. You don't have the feeling of a huge production typically.
With that said, the competition is quite good. The one thing I've noticed about the Champions Tour is you don't get many guys who when they have a chance to win back up. You don't see too many guys who get near the lead and then shoot 75 or 74. It seems like everybody keeps on going lower and lower and lower, and there's no backing up on Sundays. I think that's one of the big differences I see. I think because of the competition, I wouldn't say pure competition, but more love for playing, for the love of the game, the fun of the game, more playing for the trophy versus maybe the huge, huge money and the notoriety that goes with it and the pressure that the media puts on you when you're on the PGA Tour. I see a more relaxed atmosphere on the Champions Tour, but still amazingly competitive and some awfully low scores.
Q. You say there's always tournaments you want to win. Sounds like there might be one or two out there that you have your eye on. Are there?
TOM LEHMAN: Absolutely. I typically don't like to share my goals and my aspirations. I would like to be able to win as many tournaments as I can, as many of the bigger ones as I can. I've already won two of the majors out there and I'd like to win the other three. As I think of my career on the Champions Tour, that would be a goal, to win all the majors. You kind of go from there. To me it's fun, though. The Champions Tour is an awful lot of fun. The question asked previously about the differences, the PGA Tour is fun, too, but it's fun in a different way. It's fun because of the bigness of it, the production of it, all that goes with that. I think it's more fun, the actual golf is more fun, on the Champions Tour. There's definitely a lot more camaraderie throughout the tour, all the guys together on the Champions Tour. There's an element of that that I really enjoy.
Q. When you're 70 and they say you're winning too much, they won't let you play any more, what are you going to do?
TOM LEHMAN: When I'm 70 (laughter)? There is no doubt that at some point, whenever I decide to quit playing full time, I'll probably be diving way more into the things I'm involved with in my community. I could see myself doing that. I don't ever see retiring and just kind of doing nothing. I think when golf starts to go, takes second place, not playing as much, I'll probably be much more involved with some of the things in Phoenix that I'm involved with.
Q. Tom, you talked at the beginning of the call about the gratification of winning this award. How does that compare to when you won the award on what's now the Nationwide Tour and then some years later on the regular Tour?
TOM LEHMAN: I think it's every bit as significant simply because it's a goal that I set. I think anytime you set a goal that's a lofty goal, and this one was lofty because no one had done it before. I was aware of that, that one of my goals was to win Player of the Year on all three tours. Because of that reason, it's significant. It's the culmination of a journey. It's a journey that's been a lot of fun. There's no guarantees. There were no promises that I could achieve that. It took a lot of good playing and also some good fortune for me to win. There's a lot of things happened this past year that went in my favor. John Cook lost in two playoffs. If he could have won those two tournaments, could have been a different thing. Calc almost came back and won the Schwab Cup. Those guys had great years, played great golf, but things kind of tipped my way.
When you work so hard and you want it so badly, you chase that dream, then the dream does come true, it's significant. I was very, very aware over the last couple years I had a chance to do something that no one's done before, at least to this point. Obviously eventually (indiscernible) in Phoenix started asking about it, so it became more of a focal point with the media over the last half of the season, which made it even that much more in some ways difficult because it was no longer a secret, no longer something that was kind of between me and my wife and me hitting the white golf ball. That's why it's so gratifying. The expectations that I put on myself are one thing. Once those kind of expectations or those dreams kind of get out in the public, people understand what you have a chance to do, they start asking about it every single week, it becomes even more difficult. That's probably why I'm so happy with it.
Q. When you turn 70, is there a Super Seniors Tour?
TOM LEHMAN: I don't think so (laughter). I don't think I'll be playing golf at 70, but you can never say never.
Q. You got off too such a hot start, top three in five of your first seven starts. Was there anything about the start in this past season that you did in terms of preparing, health, anything of that nature?
TOM LEHMAN: I've been working very hard on my game over the past several years, quite frankly, especially on my short game. I think, to be honest about the way the season started, it was a combination of a great attitude, having worked very hard for quite a while now, and my short game being just a little bit sharper. I think over the whole course of the season, I might have had like 10 top five finishes. The second half of the season wasn't a lot different than the first half, other than I didn't win. I came close, came second a couple times. I didn't quite putt as well the second half of the year.
I think the story of the season was simply a lot of good play from start to finish, with exceptionally good putting early, leading to three victories. The consistency of the play throughout was what I was the happiest with. There really wasn't a lot of difference except for just a brief few weeks in the middle of the season, during the time of the U.S. Open, the U.S. Senior Open, where I wasn't sharp, struggled a little bit. Other than that, it was like one good start after the next. Consistency is always one of the things that gives me confidence and makes me feel good about my game.
Q. Going back to when you were 31 on the Hogan Tour, I understand your gratitude to Deane for creating it, if that hadn't been around, how much longer do you think you would have been kicking around?
TOM LEHMAN: I was right there. That was right there on the cusp of that, kind of crap or get off the pot thing. I don't know how much longer I would have pursued it beyond that, I really don't. I don't think it would have gone a whole lot further. I had already been a pro for almost 10 years. I had a young little baby, a second one on the way. I don't know that I would have pursued it a whole lot further. I don't think I would have been a 35 year old traveling in a car playing that many events. I don't think I would have accepted doing that. That was right there at the crossroads, no doubt about it.
Q. Did you start talking to people in terms of being a club rep or whatever?
TOM LEHMAN: No, I never did. I never got to that point. Sometimes you go into a year and you have a feeling, you have a feeling that: This is the year. I'm not sure which way it's going to go. I remember clearly thinking in 1991 that this was a make or break year, one way the other I was going to go one direction or the other. There wasn't going to be a whole lot of mystery to what 1992 was going to bring. I was either going to be done with golf or I was going to be on the Tour. I just had the feeling that something really good was on the way. It was. '91 was a great year. I wasn't surprised. I was not surprised at all that I had played so well. I rolled right into '92 and was off and running. I knew that '91 was a make or break year for sure.
MODERATOR: Tom, we appreciate you taking the time to join us and share your thoughts. Congratulations once again on the Player of the Year award. Thank you, everybody, for joining us on the call. We appreciate it.
TOM LEHMAN: Thanks, Mark.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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