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March 13, 2008
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Tom, for joining us for a few minutes in the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Nice round today, and we were just talking about it, a great birdie at 18 to get to 4-under. Just talk about your day, and I'm sure you had fun out there.
TOM LEHMAN: Well, you know, I guess for starters, the weather is perfect. What little wind there was, you know, maybe started out at five or eight miles an hour and slowly dwindled, and by the time we finished, it was just a puff. It would occasionally change directions. We teed off on 18 when it was with us and then the second shots, it was against, but there really wasn't enough of it to really make a big difference.
So, you know, it was a nice day to play. I hit the ball very well. Working extremely hard on my game. You know, saw some positive signs and some good results today.
Q. We were just laughing amongst ourselves, you've got a 49-year-old of recent vintage and 48-year-old at 1, 2 on the leaderboard, and trying to figure out what, if anything, that might mean.
TOM LEHMAN: It means we had a good day. (Laughter).
The ability to play good golf is always there no matter how old you are. It just seems that it gets more difficult to do it consistently. That's always been my experience. I can play extremely well at times, but I don't play extremely well for extended periods of time like I used to. I'm not sure what that is, but there's just days that I don't feel as good.
Q. What plays in your favor on this course? You seem to play very well here over the years.
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I play well here generally. I like the course. It seems to fit my game. It fits my eye. I like the way it looks. And I've played here a lot, so I've learned how to play it. I've seen it all different wind directions; and when the wind is blowing from this direction, it's a 3-wood, and if it's not, it's a driver.
I know that you don't want to be short on 18, so if you have a doubt at all, just take more club because very often early on you try to hit that muscle 7-iron and just smash in there, and then you catch a little gust and it ends up on the rocks.
So then again, you know that over in the bunker is even worse, or maybe just as bad as being in the water. So you learn where to play your shots and where you can't hit.
Q. What's your recollection of the playoff? We were trying to figure it out, was it '98?
TOM LEHMAN: With Lumpy? It was something like that.
My recollection would be I had a chance to win on 18 and missed about a 12-footer.
TOM LEHMAN: No, first playoff hole. Hit a really good iron shot just past the hole left coming down the hill and missed the putt.
The second playoff hole, I hit a poor tee shot. It was a par 5 at the time, in the bunker and hit a terrible lie and ended up struggling to make a par, and Lumpy hit a great dive and 5-iron, whacked it over the green and putted for eagle.
Q. Anything particular that you've been working on?
TOM LEHMAN: Actually, there is. I've got a really good friend named Dennis Pixler, who is a former golf pro, still is a golf pro and he used to play out here, and he knows my game very well, and I asked him to come and visit me for three days about three or four weeks ago. I told him I was struggling so much with my game, and not hitting it solid, not making any putts, and couldn't even hit a chip solid, which is very unusual for me. So asked him to come and spend three days and help me.
He did and he made a comment, he said, "It looks like you're tilting on the backswing, like you're tilting to the left on the backswing, kind of this way."
I said, "Well, if I'm tilting left, does it mean my head is dropping?" And we looked, and sure enough, my head was dropping three inches on the backswing. On my takeaway, my head was dropping and wasn't coming up and which was exactly why I was hitting so many lousy shots and not hitting them in the middle of the clubface ever. I spent three weeks simply working and keeping my head still and swinging well again.
Q. So the theory of the stack and tilt on steroids --
TOM LEHMAN: It must have been like the stack-and-tilt on steroids, because it was definitely not working. Probably shouldn't say that since this is the era of drug testing. I guess my swing can be on steroids, just not me.
Q. Seems like you still have fire.
TOM LEHMAN: I hate to play poorly, I just hate it. The first five weeks of the year was a comedy of errors. So I just -- sometimes you just have to try to figure out where do I have to go from here. And me it's always the same things. You go back to the simple little things, and just take care of the small things. If I can do the small things right, you know, then the big things will take care of themselves.
So that's kind of where I'm at is try to take care of the small things, do the small things right, and don't short-side yourself. Make sure you miss it in the right spot, as opposed to constantly hitting it in the wrong spot and having no chance to make par.
Q. The meeting was in Scottsdale?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, end of February I guess, right after L.A.
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Anything in your round today, any turning point, a par or birdie?
TOM LEHMAN: I hit it pin-high a lot, I hit a lot of iron shots almost exactly pin-high.
I made a par on 16, a nice save there. I drove it and hit a pretty good tee shot and drifted and bounced it into the right bunker and had a tough shot 200 yards over, and chipped it and ran ten feet by and made it for par. That putt kept me in the game.
But the last two holes, I think the birdie on 18 was the result of making par on 16.
Q. What did you use on 18?
TOM LEHMAN: 6-iron. 169 to the pin. I hit it dead pin-high about seven feet.
Q. So 11 months from now, what are you going to be do or over the fence; do you know? When was your birthday?
TOM LEHMAN: My birthday was last week. I have 359 days or something.
Q. Not that I'm counting.
TOM LEHMAN: Not that I'm counting, right.
Over the years I have been so driven to play the PGA TOUR, I have not given myself a chance to think about the Champions Tour, and as a result, when the thought came up, it was, oh, I'll play out here as long as I can.
But I guess the closer I get, the more fun it sounds like. That's the one thing I keep on hearing from the guys out there who are my friends is how much fun they are having. It is competition but they are having fun, and if you can have fun playing golf for another five or six years, that sounds like a good time.
Q. To ask a question along the same lines, you answered about half of it, if that option doesn't exist, would you see more players competing at 51, 52, 53 and creating good scores and results?
TOM LEHMAN: I'm an absolute firm believer that if I wanted to and was willing to commit myself to the time that it would take to do it, I could stay out here for quite a while longer. I have no doubts about that.
But the issue is, you know, family, kids, age. Age works against you, and as age works against you, it takes more time to stay physically able to play. So more time working out, more time practicing, and all that means less time for watching your 12-year-old play baseball. So those are all issues that are real-life issues.
So hey, you know, if you had all the time in the world, could you? Absolutely. But who has all the time in the world? You only have 24 hours in a day. At some point the priorities outweigh one or the other.
Q. Is making The Ryder Cup team an attainable goal for you?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, with the way the current system is orchestrated, a really fast finish still makes it a possibility. I don't think there's any reason why any player who really picks up their game April 1, so to speak, can't play their way on to the team the next four months.
Q. What would it mean to you to make the team after what happened last time?
TOM LEHMAN: I would love to make the team, of course. But I would only want to make it -- of course you want to be a good teammate.
So the reason why I think it's attainable and a good thing is that anybody who comes on strong and finishes the year really strong is obviously playing great golf and would be a great teammate; as opposed to at my age, you know, what if it was still the two-year system; and what if I had a great year last year and this year I was dogging it and still made my way on to the team, I would be a terrible teammate. I think the system right now will brings 12 guys to the table that will play really well.
Q. What kind of captain do you think Fred will make on The Presidents Cup side of things?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I think Fred will be a great captain, simply because I think he really is honored. I think he really cares and it really means a lot to him, as it should. He deserves it.
Any time you care -- I remember when Ken Venturi was the captain. Ken had not played for a long, long time. He had been in the booth and didn't really have a lot of contact with the players. But when he was The Presidents Cup Captain, it was so apparent how much it meant to him, and he made it very clear how fortunate he felt and that this was the crowning highlight of his career. You know, the players really responded to that and we played great for him. You know, it was a blowout.
I think Freddie, I'm sure he feels the same way. I'm sure he feels like this is a real feather in his cap and he'll do a fine job.
Q. Sounds like you like the change in the criteria for selecting The Ryder Cup team. Do you wish you would have had it for yourself, or would it have mattered?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think, you know, if you would have asked me any time, what's the best system, I say the best system is giving the guy 12 picks; that's the best system. But having four picks really helps.
One of the things I've always believed is that, well, every tournament should matter, and the way the Top-10 thing basically worked was if you weren't in the Top-10, it was as if you never even showed up that week. So 11th, 15th, 20th, 30th, 155th, you're all in the same boat, zero. And so this way, every week matters. Every start matters, and that's a way better system.
Q. Did you have any input into it?
TOM LEHMAN: You know what, we talked about that three or four years ago, and I kind of gave my opinion on that three or four years ago. But sometimes it just takes a good old-fashioned butt-kicking, a couple times in a row especially, to really realize it's time to change.
There are seasons for change really, and you have to be ready for it. No one is going to change anything if you are not ready to change it. I think after we got beat at The K Club it was really time to sit down and say, okay, what really do we need to do. My method of any kind of change typically is to model something after something that's working.
The European system is really working. (Laughter) They have a great way of selecting their team. It's all a matter of playing and every tournament, every start matters. And so I think that's a great change.
Q. A guy of your age, old enough to have gotten into the game when Palmer was still in his heyday, a lot of younger guys in the field, they don't have any memories of what he meant to the game; what is it like? Can you share some thoughts about him?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, absolutely. I can remember as a kid, you know, as a little kid, watching the Masters with my dad and watching him win and watching him lose.
I remember one year he made a double-bogey on the 18th hole to lose the tournament, and I think I cried. I believe I did. If Arnold lost and if the Cowboys lost, I cried as a kid.
Just a lot of charisma. Even as a little kid, you could sense it and feel it from a guy like him. One thing I think he's done extremely well, and something that he should be very proud of, is he's remained connected to the players out here. He's always had a good word or some kind of a tease for the players. I remember one year at Oakmont, U.S. Open in '94 or whatever, he was playing -- I think he was playing. If he wasn't playing, I guess he was there, and it was a brutally hot week. We had just finished the first round and just absolutely worn out and I was sitting with Lee Janzen and Freddie and a couple other guys, some of the top players.
And Arnold walked in and said, "What did you shoot." You know, 76, 77, 79, 78, other guys shot 74 and I was the low man on the totem pole. I don't remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was: "You guys suck." (Laughter). He said it in a teasing kind of way, because he obviously respected all the players. To me I liked that, and he's done that very well. Byron Nelson did it extremely well. He remained connected and gave back to the modern day player. I think that's a real lesson that all professionals should look at.
Q. Arnold is a big note-writer, too. Did you ever get a letter from him losing the playoff?
TOM LEHMAN: No, never did.
Q. He wrote one to Greg Owen.
TOM LEHMAN: Did he? That was a tough loss there. Just a lot of nice comments.
Q. Back to the Ryder Cup, when I grew up, of course it was the United States versus Great Britain or England and so forth. Right now you have an entire continent pooling its resources against one country, and I thought that might be a disadvantage at a couple levels. Secondly, they have to focus their motivation playing against the big, bad U.S., is it difficult to focus on Europe as an entity, as opposed to one country? Do they have any kind of advantage psychologically in that regard?
TOM LEHMAN: There's some Europeans in the room, you ought to ask them.
Q. I did. I have asked them.
TOM LEHMAN: I have always believed that people like to beat the U.S., no problems with that at all. In the spirit of competition, you always want to beat the best, and very often America has been the best. Well, times have changed in sports. In modern day sports, America isn't always the best.
But the idea is that America is very prominent and people want to knock them off whenever they get the chance. I think it's a good thing. It's a good thing for sports to have rivalries like that.
And also, I actually think, I've always believed the fact that there's different countries that comprise The European Team it actually makes the team stronger in some ways. I believe that a little bit of the differences can make the team better, and I also believe that the little sub-groups within the big group, the three or four Irish guys or the three or four Spanish guys or the three or four Swedish guys, they have something to prove, not just for Europe, but for their own country. It's all been my observation in sports that European countries seem to be more nationalistic in support of their national teams, soccer or rugby or whatever it might be.
I remember a couple years ago when my wife was in Italy after the Italians won the World in soccer, the streets in Rome, it was a big party for two days, people hanging out the windows and singing. And the team came through on the bus just partying and dancing, and everybody loved each other for two or three days. I don't think you really see that too much; when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, the Red Sox fans were pretty happy, but everybody else in the country doesn't care. Whereas, it's different in Europe.
Q. Can the Americans get the same kind of motivation playing a big diverse group such as Europe? Is it hard to focus their motivation?
TOM LEHMAN: No. I think they are very motivated. I think we need to bring all the fans that hang out on the 16th open at the FBR Open, the 17th hole at the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, and bring all those fans to the Ryder Cup and sit around the first tee and sing their songs. That will make us play a little better.
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you.
End of FastScripts