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February 2, 2005

Tom Lehman


JOHN BUSH: We've got Tom Lehman in the interview room. Thanks for coming by and spending a few minutes with us. Welcome back to Phoenix, the winner here in 2000. Talk about coming back.

TOM LEHMAN: I'm not sure, coming back seems like a strange term, living just five minutes away from here (laughter). It's always nice to be -- to have tournament week here. It's a fun week for everyone, the players, the fans, the sponsors, the whole city of Phoenix I think really gets behind the tournament. It's a huge social event. It's a huge sporting event, so it's a great week here in this town.

JOHN BUSH: Two Top 10s in both starts. Talk about your year so far.

TOM LEHMAN: I'm playing well. I finished the year last year playing well, and I'm still playing well. I feel like I'm doing a lot of things better than I have been over the past few years, driving it straighter, hitting it closer on the greens, making a few more putts, all relating to better scores and better finishes.

Q. What makes this a different event, special event, compared to all the others?

TOM LEHMAN: I think you need to go to the 16th hole to understand. On Saturday and Sunday especially when the crowds are at their peak on the hillside on the back of the green is full of people sitting and watching, it's virtually a bowl. It's like playing a golf shot in the Rose Bowl. It's unlike anyplace that you'll ever go.

It's going to be 100 percent enclosed with people watching golf and having a few cocktails and placing their bets on the Super Bowl and doing whatever else they do.

That hole right there says it all. Then you move on town to the 18th hole, same thing. They have corporate boxes on both sides, the hillsides are full of people, and there's so many people that it's an exciting place to play.

Q. Does the exuberance kind of rattle some golfers?

TOM LEHMAN: I think there's a bit of pressure that people feel approaching the 16th hole, for example. It's amazing, those guys who have always sat right next to the tee, all the college kids with all the different football jerseys, they know every player's alma mater, every fight song, so when you show up on the Tour they start singing, whether it be the Minnesota Gophers or the Michigan Wolverines or maybe the Packer jersey for Jerry Kelly, but they must have a truckload of jerseys and a boxful of music to know all the words.

Q. What do you think when you go under that tunnel to the 16th hole? How do you prepare for it?

TOM LEHMAN: You're playing for a good shot (laughter). I really think that to really -- you can really enjoy it if you put yourself in the mindset that I'm going to enjoy this experience, I'm going to take the energy from the crowd and I'm going to run with it. I'm going to get up there and hit them the greatest shot ever hit, really kind of have that mind set. I'm going to give them something to cheer about, something to yell about.

The downside is the minute you make contact they're yelling go in, go in, even though the ball may be heading for the pot bunker short left. It's like, "good in what?" It's going in the bunker, pal. Then they start yelling, "Minnesota sucks," but they're having fun, so you've got to have fun with them.

Q. I think it was after Torrey Pines you had a quote something to the extent of, "Sick of these close showings, strong showings". Does being that close feel different now at this point of your career versus early on? Is it worse, the same?

TOM LEHMAN: It's maybe in some ways worse. It's a two-sided coin. I'm at age 45, almost 46, people don't expect as much out of it if you had to be realistic, but I expect every bit as much out of myself. I feel like I'm playing as well as I've played since about 1998 maybe. That's how good I feel about my game, so I do have high expectations, and I felt two weeks ago at Torrey that I played extremely well from start to finish and didn't quite get the job done, even though I played well and had a great attitude. I had a very positive feeling. It was one of those weeks where I felt from the beginning that it was my tournament to win, even all the way through Sunday. There wasn't a minute I felt like I wasn't going to win, so it was disappointing to not.

Q. You've been really close in, I think, four of the last five that you've played. Have you looked back at that and said maybe if I can do this one thing I would come out on top? Is it something statistically?

TOM LEHMAN: I'm making too many bogeys. My whole attitude has been to go out and really play aggressively, to play with confidence, and I feel like I've done that and I've made a lot of birdies, but I've also made too many bogeys. When I sit and look at it, I can look at my rounds and compare it, for example, to the round that Tiger played last week. Tiger, I made a comment, that he wasn't at his best, not on top of his game, which I think is true. However, he managed his game fantastically. He only made one bogey that last four when he shot 4-under. He hit it in the rough, missed a lot of greens, but he managed his game. He always missed in the right areas where he could get it up-and-down, he chipped it putted beautifully, and he managed to minimize the mistakes, and that's really -- when I look back at my performances, that's what I see is five birdies, three bogeys; six birdies, five bogeys; way too many mistakes mixed in with a lot of really good things, so that's what I see.

Q. Seems like you've been ready to win like every week since, what, Vegas last year?

TOM LEHMAN: Beginning of September, yeah.

Q. Do you think that this golf course maybe offers you the perfect opportunity since -- I mean, you had five Top 10s here. Does this fit you better than the ones you just came from?

TOM LEHMAN: I think this fits me -- definitely fits me better with the higher rough and narrower fairways. I feel like my chances to win increase the less you have to shoot 20 or 25 under to win. So if the winning score is 10-under, 12-under, then I feel like that's more my style. To me it's -- I've been close, and I'm looking forward to the next opportunity, to get my chance, whether it's this week or next week or whatever. I really feel like -- you always learn stuff as you go, and I felt like I -- rather than taking an attitude at the Buick, okay, here's another chance, don't blow it, it was, "I've got a chance, let's go do it." I'm not playing to finish 2nd, I'm not playing to have a good showing, I'm playing to win.

It was a good feeling, having that directive, that focus, even though it didn't work out my way. It at least felt that good to be committed to what I was doing.

Q. There's been some debate about whether or not you're playing so well that you could play on the Ryder Cup team. Can you address that?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I've said all along that I felt like if my play was such that I could make the team and I could help the team, then I would play. You know, I'll be very candid. The thing that still holds me back a bit is putting.

I'm still a streaky putter with that long putter. I putt well at times and there's times that I don't make as much, but I'm improving. If I get to the point where I'm a significantly better putter and when the pressure is on I'm making really good putts and I'm knocking them in the hole, then I'll play.

But I really don't want guys on myself, including myself, who can't make a ten-footer when you have to, including myself. I've made some but I've missed a lot. If the scales were tilted more, I'm making a lot more than I'm missing, then that's a big difference. You want guys who stand up there when your knees are shaking and knock in that six-footer.

Q. Is that something you think as it gets closer you will struggle with or will it be pretty cut and dry?

TOM LEHMAN: Who can tell the future? It's hard to say, hard to say.

Q. Given the scope of the Ryder Cup, what it's become, is it feasible for someone to be a player-captain still?

TOM LEHMAN: I think it is. There's a lot of things that you can do throughout the course of two years that you don't need to wait until the end to accomplish, so that's really kind of my perspective. I've got a year and a half now to take care of some stuff that if I do it right, it's not going to all come crashing down on you in the last three or four months.

Part of it is I want the guys to know that I'm serious about this. I want to make the team. That's how badly I want to win. I want to be a part of a winning team. I'm going to do everything I can to make it. It's like, "okay, guys, jump on my wagon, let's go do it." I think the thing to do is put my best foot forward as a player and as a captain.

Last week Justin won and I couldn't be happier. He's a guy who has a lot of courage who when push comes to shove you want on your side. When I see him, I'm patting him on the back, "way to go, big fellow. That's one step along the way. I'm counting on you."

Charles Howell finished 2nd and 3rd in the first two weeks. I'm punching him in the shoulder like, "okay, let's step it up and get a win. I've got my eye on you and I expect big things from you, so let's go do it." Not just for the Ryder Cup but for the rest of your career, as well.

Q. How consuming, if at all, at this point in the year is the Ryder Cup responsibilities for you? I mean, how much time does it take up?

TOM LEHMAN: It's more ideas, what can we do, how can we go about accomplishing what we want to do. The goal is to win the Ryder Cup. You kind of start there and go backwards. The goal is to win, so how do we accomplish that. As ideas pop into my head, I write them down and maybe send an email to the PGA of America saying I'm thinking about this, let's keep that on the back burner. It's more thinking and listening and talking to players, talking to a lot of guys, what's your expectation, what's your experience been like, tell me what you think we could do differently, if anything, what's your ideas.

Q. Do you find it's always kind of back there, the Ryder Cup thing?

TOM LEHMAN: It's like golf courses. I've gotten involved with golf course design a number of years ago, so whenever I play a golf course, I notice the things that I like, little things that I enjoy about the course or things that I don't like, so it's similar to that.

You pick up things, you hear somebody say something and you store it away in your mind, so it's not like it's a consuming thing, but it's always there. Your antenna is always up and you're picking up bits and pieces.

Q. How do you find balance between playing that, you're a man of strong faith, you've got a lot on your plate it seems like. How do you find balance?

TOM LEHMAN: I think the biggest thing is over the years I've found it easier to say, "you know, what you want me to do for you, you want me to come play in your fund raiser for some phenomenal organization," and I understand that. It's a great organization. What your doing is wonderful, but the timing isn't right for me right now, so I have to say no. It's easier to do that for me because you can't do it all, and there is high expectations, but there's things you get involved with and things you don't get involved with.

For example, I tell my assistant, between 9:00 o'clock and 3:00 o'clock every day is my time. If somebody calls and they say they want something from me, tell them it's got to be before 9:00 or after 3:00, but from 9:00 to 3:00 is my time, and if I want to practice, I practice. If I want to go to the office, I go to the office. If I want to put my feet up on the couch and watch Sports Center, I'll do that. That's my time. You have to be a little bit selfish. I don't do that, by the way, the feet up on the couch watching Sports Center.

If I'm serious about golf, serious about playing, that means I've got to have my time where I'm practicing and not being distracted. Whatever I can fit in, then at 4:00 o'clock is like school is over, homework is done and it's time for me to hang out with the kids and do stuff. So there's a little bit of time before and after where you can do stuff, so if it doesn't fit in there, then it's, I'm sorry, it doesn't work for me. That's how I do it. People can accept that.

Q. Are you taking on more golf projects?

TOM LEHMAN: The same as always, one or two.

Q. Do you have them going on right now?

TOM LEHMAN: We're adding on the Tucson National, building nine more to maybe it a 36-hole thing, and we're in the process of construction up near Toronto on a course, so that's about what we can manage.

Q. Now that you're playing to playing Tom Lehman golf, when you look back, what got you away after 98? Did it start with the putting, physical problems?

TOM LEHMAN: It was probably after 2000, actually. I played pretty well up through 2000. The putting was a bit erratic, but the biggest thing was my putting really became much more erratic. The strength of my putting was always light putting and making those putts just outside of five feet, so that was an issue.

Another issue was injuries. I had some problems with my feet, problems with my knees, just not 100 percent healthy, which I think caused me to change some swing some. There's a whole number of things. I started hitting it sideways, hitting it crooked. I'm not going to get technical on you, but the bottom line is I got those things straightened out, got my swing on track.

Q. Was there some point when you saw some video of yourself and said, "wow, that doesn't look like me three years ago"?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, it goes back to my shoulder injury at the British Open in 98 and 99 after the surgery. In a nutshell, I found I was rotating my hips way more in the back swing than I ever was before, probably to accommodate a tightness in my shoulder if I had to think about it.

The net result was I was stuck on my right side and I couldn't get to my left side and started hitting it off my right foot and hitting it everywhere.

I saw some pictures of me making a swing at Augusta in 1993, and the amount of hip turn on that swing compared to what I had been doing was dramatic. It was so much less, less hip turn, more shoulder turn, firing on my left side, strong leg drive, finishing at the target. That in a nutshell was like, "wow, look at that."

Q. How did you get into that? Is it a flexibility thing or just a bad habit that kept on creeping?

TOM LEHMAN: I had surgery on my right shoulder, and for about a year and a half, even though it was repaired, it was still pretty tight. I stretched it. So in the effort to get more turn instead of turning my shoulders, I turned my hips.

Q. Compensation?

TOM LEHMAN: It was compensation, I guess.

Q. I know you've been asked before, so if you don't mind, next month Phoenix will be looking at Michelle Wie. Can you talk get about her ability, what you see and the progress you've seen her make?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, she's a phenomenal talent. You don't see what she has very often at all. I mean, rarely. The perfect golf swing, a great temperament, obviously strong desire, seems to be very balanced in her life.

But her physical abilities are really astounding. I first met her when she was 12, had just turned 12, and I asked her what her lowest score was, and she said she shot a 64. I said, "wow, shooting a 64 when you're 12, that's amazing." She said, "no, I shot it when I was 11." How many 11 year olds shoot 64? I did for nine holes, but that gives you an idea.

I guess my comments about her are she is so technically solid and she has such a great swing that she doesn't really need a lot of help, a little direction, guidance, helping her manage her life, but she's like sea business cut. She's a champion. Everybody just get out of her way and let her play. That's been my feeling about her is she doesn't need a lot of help.

Q. What are your thoughts on her playing in certain events?

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I thought the Hawaiian Open was appropriate. She made a great showing last year. This year she didn't play as well. But I kind of feel like -- who knows what the future holds, if she gets good enough or can beat most of the guys, maybe she'll break that barrier, who knows, but she definitely has the tools and I'm very impressed with her.

JOHN BUSH: Tom, thanks for coming by.

End of FastScripts.

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