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June 11, 1997

Tom Lehman


LES UNGER: Tom, the last time we had a chance to chat with you, it was moments after a disappointing ending. I have to ask you how many times in the last 12 months you watched that tee shot on 18 go about a yard and a half or two too long.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I watched it a couple times, and winning the British Open really softened the blow of losing the U.S. Open. So, you know, I think about last year and I think mostly positive things. I think that I feel like I played very well throughout the course of the tournament especially on Saturday and Sunday, and I feel like I can hold my head up high even though I lost.

LES UNGER: Thus far this season, it seems like you've been in either a little slump or whatever. How would you describe your play so far?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I have not played my best. I've been very erratic. My strong suit of my game is consistency and I've been a lot more inconsistent than I've ever been over the past four or five years. I'm not sure exactly why it is. Some days I putt poorly. Sometimes I hit it crooked. I just can't seem to get quite everything put together for four straight days. But I'm getting closer. I feel like last week was almost a really good week. I played really well at Memorial, but didn't putt well. So, I think my game is just around the corner.

LES UNGER: Congressional, what do you want to say about it?

TOM LEHMAN: It's a man-size golf course, definitely. I'm sure you've heard guys talking day after day here about how tough it is. I really believe that you can get this course. I believe that you can score on this course, but you're going to have to hit it in the fairway. The rough is so thick, and it is very long, but it can be hit.

LES UNGER: Questions.

Q. Is part of the inconsistencies a fact that after 15 years of grinding it out, you don't have to grind it out any more? You have to look down deep to make yourself stay the extra 15 minutes on the putting green or half an hour on the practice green?

TOM LEHMAN: No, I don't think -- I mean, that's motivation is what you're talking about and I don't think motivation is it at all. I've worked very hard this year on my game, especially the last two or three months. And, you know, it just seems that I've always been able to count on hitting a little draw under any circumstance. And, the last few months, I just -- there's days when I can draw the ball and then there's days when I can't. When you step on a shot not, knowing if you can draw it like you normally do, it makes it more difficult to play. So I've been making a lot more mistakes. That's the biggest thing, I've been making a lot more bogeys than I have in the past and it's mostly from just an inconsistent swing.

Q. How helpful would you say it would be to contend in a major before winning one?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, it helps to be in the hunt. It helps to feel the pressure to deal with sleeping on the lead-ins on Saturday. Those things all mean a lot down the road. And, I've been through that a few times now in majors and I know what it's like. I think it's a very invaluable experience to have that kind of pressure.

Q. Do you think that the fact there's only two par 5s and only one really reachable that will serve to make for a tighter tournament and does it lessen Tiger's length advantage?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I still think those par 5s, he's going to be able to reach, at least one of them. But, you know, length is always going to be an advantage no matter where you're playing, if you can hit it straight, and I don't care who you are, you know, if you can put it in the fairway on this golf course, you can score. If you're hitting longer irons, you can still score. So if you can knock the ball in the fairway, great, if longer in the fairway, even better. And with Tiger, he can hit his 3-wood and 2-iron as far as most guys drivers, so he's, you know, he can tone it down and play it a little more,, quote/unquote, safe and still be in the fairway and still be pretty long. So, it pays to be long. There's no getting around the fact that length is important.

Q. Does Steve's victory last year prove that you don't have to be the best player in the world and maybe playing the best in the world at that time to win an Open, that you have to just be the best that week?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, yes. I mean, definitely, although Steve is like I've always -- I've said all along, Steve was a heck of player before he got hurt. People seem to have forgotten just how good he was. He was on the verge, before he was injured, of being a real world class player. You know, U.S. Open, I mean, you know, I was actually talking to Jack Nicklaus last week about the Open and he was -- he said that he always wished he could come in where he played just decently on Thursday and then improve every day. He didn't want to be peaking on Thursday. He wanted to be peaking on Sunday. So, I think that's the way Steve was last year. He got off to a slow start; each day he got better. And, when you have that kind of a game going for you on a course as difficult as the U.S. Open course, you have a really good chance to win. You don't need to be the best player in the field, but you need to be on your game that week. Because if you're just a little bit off your game, you're going to be in for some real struggles.

Q. Colin Montgomerie yesterday mentioned that he felt like the course backs Tiger up and brings him back to the rest of the field. When Davis Love was in here he mentioned he was going to keep hitting a driver. Do you think the course really does not make Tiger the favorite in this situation and if not, you know, who is the favorite?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think, you know, you need to be honest. I think every player should -- expect to play well. And, I think every good player in this field expects that they can win. But when you think about favorites, you know, you've got to realize that guys who are good can play any course. A guy who is a great player, it doesn't matter where you put him. You can put him on the moon, he can still play good golf. Tiger is no different. He's a great player and he's going to play this course just fine, even rough and all. I don't think that -- it's going to be tough to win by 12 shots maybe. But, you know, it's not like, well, he can't handle this course because he can. So, to say he's not one of the favorites is ridiculous.

Q. He mentioned that it brings everybody else up to Tiger, you know, brings everybody back to Tiger.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I mean, it's hard to hit every drive in the fairway no matter who you are. I mean, you just probably can't do it, and so when you miss the fairway, you're going to pay a penalty. So, in that respect, it is an equalizer.

Q. What do you think of the unusual nature of the finishing holes here? Not only is 18 a par 3 which is a little weird, but you can actually see -- play on 18, coming down 17, if you want to watch and see what somebody is doing, you can. How do you think that's going to come into play on Sunday?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, it's a great finish. The 17th hole is one of the great par 4s in golf, and then 18 is a good par 3. But, you're right, you can see everything as you're coming down the fairway. And, if you are the kind of guy that likes to watch what's going on around him and you're in the hunt and you see a guy make a long one for a birdie on 18 while you're walking down the fairway on 17, that's pretty good drama. You know, I think for the fans to be able to sit there and watch what's going on two holes is exciting.

Q. Do you think it will be an advantage being paired with Tiger the first two days?

TOM LEHMAN: I think it always helps to play with the players who have really good chances to win. You know, I think it helps to get you more focused. It helps you to -- you know, sometimes players can kind of like push each other, where if one guy starts going pretty good, the other guys get dragged along. Likewise, if you're playing in a group where everyone is dogging it, the other guys can get pulled down too. So, momentum golf is all momentum. If a group can get momentum, it's good for everybody. So, yes, it's good to play with Tiger.

LES UNGER: Tom, have you played with him before, and if so, is the gallery behavior a factor?

TOM LEHMAN: Oh, it will be a factor. Yeah, you know, I know that a lot of people like Steve Jones, a lot of people like me, but Tiger is the main event of that threesome, so it will be difficult at times, I'm sure, to just, you know, not notice all the movement, all the distractions that are probably going to be there.

Q. Tom, 279 at Oakland Hills, officially 1-under, is that more like 9-under, same thing here? I mean, these golf courses that they just arbitrarily say this is a par 70 instead of a 72?

TOM LEHMAN: This -- yeah, that's -- I'm not really sure what the equivalent would be. All I know is that if you break par out here, you're going to have done some really good golfing, but like I said before, I know this course can be handled.

Q. Tom, a little bit ago, you mentioned about peaking at the right time. When you have to start off strongly the first day with Tiger and Steve Jones, isn't that kind of intangible? How can you program yourself to peak at the right time?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, golf is so much mental that I feel like if, you know, the first couple of rounds are just -- you're jockeying for position. You're just trying to keep yourself in the tournament, and so no matter who you're playing with, you're basically playing against the golf course. And the nice thing about this tournament is that it's -- there's so many pitfalls, so much rough and the greens are so undulating, you can't be too concerned about who you're playing or who all is around you. So, in a sense, it's easier to kind of focus on what you're doing and forget about everything else. So, if I don't play my best on Thursday or Friday, I know that I can still manage my game and get around and score and, you know, on Saturday and Sunday, you've got a chance.

Q. Do you feel like Tiger has been put on a pedestal too early in his career?

TOM LEHMAN: I think that he has earned whatever he has received to this point. I think he's done something that no one else has done, more than -- he's done a lot of things that no one else has done. Everything that's come his way, every accolade he's received, I believe he's earned. I think I made a comment last week that I just hope that doesn't make golf fans and golf people ever minimize the other players in the field. You know, you look at the NBA, and you've got Michael Jordan, who is head and shoulders above anybody else. He's the biggest star of the league, but it's a league full of stars. And golf is the same way. If Tiger Woods is the biggest star out here, there are other stars too, other great players, so let's make sure everybody gets their due.

Q. Tom, your record is probably the most consistent of anybody in the last five years of all the Opens. How does the rough on this course compare with the rough, starting with Pebble Beach and going, you know, give me comparison on this one compared to the last five years.

TOM LEHMAN: Oh, boy. This is probably as thick I think of any of them that I've played in. I'm trying to remember. Pebble Beach, I drove the ball so well, I was rarely in the rough. Oakmont, I remember being in some pretty thick hay and having to pitch it out a lot, so I guess it was similar to that course. Baltusrol, I was so hot, I can't remember a thing. I don't know. I don't recall. But, no, this rough is very punishing. Although there are some spots that it's a little whisper. It's thick in spots and thinner in spots, and you can get lucky.

Q. How long did you agonize over the 72nd hole of last year's Open?

TOM LEHMAN: Not that long. I was very disappointed initially when I finished playing, but, you know, I think by the time I got home and had a chance to think about it all and I realized that, you know, I did play very well, and I kind of felt like, you know, the bounces didn't really go my way. And some days they do, some days they don't. It's one of those days where they didn't, and that cost me the U.S. Open. And, you know, I can live with that. It left me feeling -- with a really positive attitude, real positive frame of mind, that I'm good enough to win. I easily could have won. I played well enough to win, but I didn't. One of these times, I am going to win, so a couple days and I was over it.

Q. Tom, would you talk about the 6th hole here.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I'm going to treat it like a par 5, personally. You know, it's -- No. 6 is one of those holes that can completely take you out of the tournament if you try to get too much out of it. And so I'm going to approach it like a par 5, hit a good drive and, you know, hit a middle iron to the green, I'll do it. If I hit a so-so drive and I've got 220, I'm just going to lay it up. I'm not going to let that hole beat me and take me out of the tournament, because you make a couple 5s and a couple 4s, you're probably going to be out of the game.

Q. Tom, how have you played during your practice rounds, and is there any hole which has really given you any trouble, and any players besides yourself that you think this course suits their game?

TOM LEHMAN: Let me see. Any holes give me trouble? I think starting with No. 1, finishing at 18. They're all pretty tough. No. 6, I thought No. 6 is easily the most difficult hole out there. And, to me, that's an uncomfortable-feeling hole. I can't really tell you why, other than the fact that I know that it has my respect. But my practice rounds have gone pretty well. I've hit a lot of good shots. I feel like my game is just on the brink. Like I say, it's been inconsistent, but it's not far away, and I've had a good practice.

Q. Tom, before The Masters, you said that Tiger has a very legitimate chance to win because he's not going to be afraid going down Sunday if it's close. Obviously, it wasn't. Do you think the mind-set of the players has changed going into this major about him and about their own games, and does the mind-set change in regard to that or does the mind-set change because one is the Masters and one is the Open?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think the thing about all, you know, really great players is they don't beat themselves. I think what people have seen with all the great players - Tiger Woods included - is, you know, Tiger hasn't beaten himself. It seems when he gets a chance to win, he may not win, but he doesn't beat himself. Someone else wins. Case and point, Mark O'Meara at Pebble Beach, and I think that maybe has caused people to look at it and say, you know, when I get a chance, you know, maybe I need to find a way to not beat myself.

Q. Colonial, you don't think he beat himself?

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I didn't watch it. But I know -- there's times like, you know, I heard he hit a shot over the green on 17 onto the rough to, the Bermuda rough, hit a flyer over the green. Hitting shots out of Bermuda rough is like Russian Roulette. You don't know quite what you're going to get.

LES UNGER: Any more?

TOM LEHMAN: Thank you.

End of FastScripts.....

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