June 13, 2001
RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to have Tom Lehman with us this afternoon. Thanks for taking some time out from your preparations this afternoon. This is his 13th appearance in the United States Open. He had four Top-5 finishes between 1995 and 1998. Maybe you can start us off by talking about what it means for your game mentally or emotionally to return to a place like Southern Hills, where you won THE TOUR Championship in '96.
TOM LEHMAN: Well, that was five years ago, so this is definitely a new year. But the U.S. Open is the most special tournament in the world to me. It's good -- to be here playing means a lot. The golf course is a great test, as I'm sure everyone has heard for three days now. It's a fantastic track. It's going to take some great golfing to manage to beat the course this week.
Q. Tom, there's been a lot of discussion about 18, and particularly the green. I assume you played the hole today. Has it changed at all? Has the condition changed at all?
TOM LEHMAN: Actually, I'm playing as soon as I leave here. So I haven't played it yet today. I know the USGA basically has a handle on it. They're not going to let it get away. I think they're doing all the right things and it shouldn't be a problem, I wouldn't think.
Q. This course through the years has had a history of wire-to-wire winners, is it -- is that coincidence, is it something about the course, the kind of player it demands or what?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, I've heard that over and over again for the last couple of months, and I can't really be certain why that is. But my opinion is that it's a golf course that -- it's a great golf course, first of all. It's very difficult and it kind of keeps you a little bit off balance. Just in the way the holes turn, a lot of doglegs and subtle ways about the course. The greens are difficult. I've found it's been difficult to get into a good flow out here. And so, therefore, the players that are playing really well can really -- it can get away from the players who aren't. You play very well or you play poorly; there's not a lot of guys who will go through the weeks saying, "I played average." It seems to really kind of separate good from bad, quite significantly, and there are the guys that are on their game can really get out and stay out ahead.
Q. Tom, you've mentioned that it was five years ago since you won so handily here. How has your game changed since then, and if at all, and how is the course set up differently now than it was then? Of course, a different time of year and conditions were different. How different is it?
TOM LEHMAN: The course is definitely different. The course is more like it was in '95 at THE TOUR Championship when Billy Mayfair won. It's kind of firm and that way -- and the greens are quicker that way. And the wind is blowing like it was that year, and even par won that year. It's playing quite different than it did in '94 and the PGA and quite different than it did in '96, as well. The rough is cut differently. The fairways are narrow. There's spots where I played my first practice round where I thought it was going to be perfect and it was in the rough by ten yards. It's a bit different in that way, too. The added length won't be a factor, I don't think. But the par-3 -- a couple of par-3s are a little more difficult. No. 8 and No. 13, I guess it would be, or the 14th. But it's basically the same course, just very firm, very fast, and par will be a good score.
Q. What about your game?
TOM LEHMAN: My game is very similar. I feel like I'm playing the best I've played in a long time. I feel like I'm in the best shape I've been in in a long time. And my swing is probably as repeatable as it's been in a long time. My putting stroke feels solid. I played well last week. I've actually played fairly well most of the year, just trying to reduce the amount of mistakes that I make mentally.
Q. Tom, a lot of talk about the golf ball doesn't move as much as it used to and you don't shape the ball as much. Do you feel you still have the right-to-left ball that you can hit off the tee on these doglegs and motor into them?
TOM LEHMAN: I can still work it. Once a right-to-left guy, always a right-to-left guy. But it doesn't turn as much. In a way, a course like this is somewhat easier to play, when you can really work the ball a lot, working it around the corners. And the straighter the ball flies, it makes the line a little more precise. Maybe not quite as easy to hit some of the fairways. The new technology has its benefits, but also there's some things that aren't so good about it, and working the ball definitely is one of them.
Q. Tom, having played in the last group on Sunday four times at the U.S. Open and not winning, are those negative memories you have to contend with or are there positives there that motivate you?
TOM LEHMAN: I think they're all good memories. I don't lose any sleep over it, that's for certain. But I was talking yesterday about that, and really, two years when I was playing extremely well, '96 and '97, Congressional and Oakland Hills. There was really only one shot I wish I could take over again in those two years. You can't cry over spilt milk; I'm not doing that. The chance to play in the last group Sunday, is something I would cherish and relish and look forward to again.
Q. Tom, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the reward. You said: "This is what I do in my life, I don't need to be rewarded being myself." How did you feel when you were there, did you enjoy it?
TOM LEHMAN: I enjoyed it. It was an honor to be given that award, especially learning more about who Coach Hank Iba was and what he was all about. What I said was it seems a little bit unreal to award people for just being the way you're supposed to be. And we're all supposed to be kindhearted and should be generous and have some concern towards our neighbor, so why should you pat someone on the back for doing what they're supposed to do. That was my point. In a way it was kind of -- I was very humbled by it, really.
Q. Tom, it's been a pretty busy week already for you, with the award Monday night. You and the guys ready to start tomorrow?
TOM LEHMAN: No question. Normally most players don't show up to a tournament until probably Tuesday. You play a couple of practice rounds. So having three days to be here and prepare is more than you normally use. And therefore, I didn't even play on Monday. I putted and chipped and hit some balls, but two days of practice rounds is all most guys need.
Q. Tom, Lee Westwood this morning said that we won't find out how good Tiger Woods really is until he goes through a slump. He said he's never been through a slump, and we have to wait until he goes through one to find out how good he is as a player. Can you comment on that, please?
TOM LEHMAN: That's assuming he will go into a slump. I'll never make that assumption. Slumps are caused by really two things: Lack of enthusiasm or a flaw in your swing, neither of which he has. I wouldn't be looking forward to slumps anytime soon.
Q. You talked about being in the best shape of your life. I've heard a lot of golfers say that this week. Is that directly attributed to Tiger, do you think, and his work ethic, or to try to keep up with him?
TOM LEHMAN: I think I said best shape in a long time. I know when I was 18 I could run circles around myself at 42. But it's mostly related to the fact that my wife gets sick and tired looking at me being overweight. So it has nothing to do with Tiger. It has everything to do with making my wife happy. So, therefore, I've been working out.
Q. Tom, as a follow-up to all of this talk you always get about Tiger, is it good for golf that he has won four majors in a row going for his fifth or would it be good for golf this week if somebody else wins the major and steps up to his challenge?
TOM LEHMAN: I think it would be great for golf if I won this week. That's all I'm going to say about that. It would be great for me.
Q. A clarification. The shots you would take over, was that at Congressional at 16?
TOM LEHMAN: 16, definitely. But 17 -- so maybe two shots. That bogey at 16; I hit the wrong club on 16, and so really kind of forced the issue on 17. So if I could take any one shot over again, it would be the shot on 16.
Q. The other thing is, we came here this week and everyone is talking about Tiger Woods. Now after three days, everyone is talking about the golf course. I wonder if the players have changed in their discussions, as well, this week?
TOM LEHMAN: Have what now?
Q. If the players have changed, too, if they came here talking about Tiger, but now are talking about the golf course, because the golf course has become center now?
TOM LEHMAN: I think most players have yet to see Southern Hills at its fiery best, which it was in 1995, but only 30 guys got to play that week. '94, it was middle of August, it was soft. '96 it wasn't all that -- it wasn't that much easier -- or tougher, I should say. And so most players haven't seen Southern Hills as it is right now. Therefore, the talk now is the golf course, because the golf course is just a phenomenal golf course. Any thought of what somebody else is doing is just pretty much sinking your own ship. You can't waste your time worrying about one guy. There's too much to worry about, maintaining your own game and your own emotions, or else the course will eat you up. Bottom line is if you can go out there and tame this golf course and beat this golf course, I don't care who it is you're playing against, you're going to have a good chance winning.
Q. Tom, considering the way you've described this golf course, Tiger said a couple of weeks ago at Memorial that the reason he plays so well there is because it's always wet and he can just pretty much do whatever he wants to off the tee. How do you see this golf course setting up for his game? Is there any golf course that's difficult for him or does he just have all the shots to play on any golf course, no matter how it's set up?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, how it's set up for him, you'll have to ask him. I have no idea what he thinks about it. But from my perspective, I don't really see any course that he couldn't play. I think he's proven that over and over again. A course like Memorial plays more into his strengths. But how do you talk about somebody's strengths when they have no weaknesses, so what do you say? I don't think there's any course that doesn't favor the best player in the world.
Q. Tom, if you know that you're playing with Tiger in the final group on a Sunday, is there a different approach, is there more factors you have to deal with?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, there's more factors. The biggest factor is just the crowd. That's the biggest thing. If you talk to most players who play with Tiger, it's always an experience that's enjoyable. It's always nice to play with the guys who are the best players. But dealing with the circus -- the first two rounds of Congressional at the U.S. Open, Tiger and myself and I think Steve Jones played together, and there was -- must have been 120 media guys on the course with us, and there was two people who were full-time in charge of making them go in the right places and doing the right thing, and not talking or shooting when they weren't supposed to be talking or shooting or not moving. You don't deal with that playing with Davis Love or Lee Westwood, like I'm playing with the first two days. There's the circus atmosphere of the crowd when playing with Tiger, which is difficult. Maybe it's even tougher to play right in back of him or right in front of him, because folks are running to get in a spot where they can see. Therefore, you're constantly getting people running up on you or -- and distracting you.
Q. If you were to come in with like 68 tomorrow, would you figure you'd got there multiple birdies and some bogeys or could there be a bogey-free 68 on a golf course like this? And the other half is would you expect that you'd make some long putts on these greens?
TOM LEHMAN: The greens are pure. And if you're rolling it well, you're going to make some putts, period. As far as bogey-free rounds, yeah, you can do that out there. The course is not impossible. If the wind blows real hard, it would be highly unlikely. If the weather is reasonable, the wind is reasonable, I can see a guy playing on this course, a round without bogeys. The birdies are not going to be easy to come by, but you can make them.
Q. Tom, you finished well in Hawaii, and last week in between the finishes weren't as solid. Has your play been inconsistent or you've played well and not scored?
TOM LEHMAN: I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself. Being a Ryder Cup year, wanting to make the team. I've been in great shape on Sunday four times, for sure, when I've shot terrible rounds, 4-over, 3-over, and shot myself in the foot. And what it's been more with me is playing very well and getting nothing out of it. Putting too much pressure on myself, wanting to play well too badly. I feel like my game is really good, just that maybe I haven't been approaching it the right way.
Q. Have you done anything, anything in advance of the Open to try to tweak that?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I've tried to put out of my mind all the stuff you can't control. I can't control what happens with the Ryder Cup team or what somebody else does. I've just tried to kind of refocus on myself, and what I'm doing is playing my shots one at a time. And that old cliche: One hole at a time; it's rather boring, but it's true. You have to stay in the present, and you can't get out of the present or you get in trouble. I try to stay with the tunnel vision thing.
Q. Did that pay off in Memphis?
TOM LEHMAN: In Memphis it helped. I tried to mind my own business. I played real well on Sunday, and I was happy with the way I played.
Q. Tom, I was hoping you could shift gears for a second. You're playing in Tom Watson's event next week in Kansas City. Could you talk about your relationship with him and how important the charity-type events are, because it's something that's also going on in Minnesota?
TOM LEHMAN: Tom is one of the people I've always looked up to in golf as a kid. Especially -- he's like ten years older than I am, so not that much older. When I was in high school and college, he was a star on the Tour and winning major championships. I always admired the way he played the game. He was definitely someone I looked up to as a player very much. The charity thing about it is -- just a lot of players do charitable things: I have a tournament, Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen. The list goes on of guys that have tournaments, and Tom has one, also. He played in my event and I'll play in his. It was an honor to be invited.
Q. Tom, everybody is talking about the course and it certainly seems to be a good U.S. Open course. In that sense does it surprise you that it's been 24 years they haven't had an Open here?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I guess it does, yeah. It's definitely one of the best courses in America, and it has been quite a dry spell. So, yes, the answer would be definitely.
RAND JERRIS: We'd like to thank you for taking time for some questions, and good luck this week.
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