May 28, 1997
WES SEELEY: We are joined by the reigning British Open champion, Tom Lehman. Why don't we start with the state of your game as you arrive here in Columbus.
TOM LEHMAN: It's not good, definitely not playing my best golf, not putting real well, that's the biggest thing. If I can get my putting straightened out and start making a few, I'll feel a lot better about it.
Q. Any particular reason why? How did it start?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, just -- that's just the way I am sometimes. I get in little streaks where I putt really well for a while and then poorly for a while. Right now I'm in a dry spell. My stroke is good. Last week at Colonial, I hit 31 greens and had 68 putts for two days. I missed the cut by one. I did a lot of things right. Once I got to the green I was just pitiful, F-.
Q. As good a year as you had last year, you got to be No. 1 in the world for an entire week.
TOM LEHMAN: It was better than not at all, though.
Q. Is it kind of sad to lose it so fast?
TOM LEHMAN: Oh, that's just the way it goes. A week is better than not at all. I'm proud of the fact that I played well, even if I had the chance to be No. 1. If it was only for a week for now, that's the way it is. And I still have a lot of golf left where I can move back up again. I haven't played my best golf this year, and I feel it's definitely the time of the year where I start playing well is right about now. It seems like the second half of the season has always been the best part of my year. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.
Q. Did last year bring more excess baggage with it than you thought it would, in terms of distraction?
TOM LEHMAN: I'm still really trying to learn about time management, the big thing is you can get going so busy with stuff, at the tournament sites, interviews and requests for this, that and the other thing, that you tend to not practice as much as you want to. And that's a problem.
Q. Your golf game, are the problems physical would you say or mental?
TOM LEHMAN: Probably a little bit of both. If I had to be honest with myself, I would say that I'm not as focused as I was in the past. And that's not because of the fact that I feel satisfied or content of my last few years, but just that a lot of things are new. A lot of things that have been going on in my life are new. And it's been a learning experience dealing with some of the things. I'm a pretty low-key person, I like things to be low key, but I'm also pretty approachable and a friendly guy, and I have a hard time saying no. So I end up saying yes to a lot of things that should take ten minutes, but then it takes half-an-hour. And pretty soon your day is shot.
Q. What are you going to need to come out of it? Have you thought what you need to do to get back where you want to be?
TOM LEHMAN: I just need to work harder, period. I always feel if I work really hard, that my game comes around. When you work hard, when you practice hard you feel good about what you're doing, you feel good about yourself, you feel good about the effort you're putting into it, and there's no regrets. When you know you're not putting all you can into it, then you look in the mirror and you say, you can be doing more. That's kind of where I'm at.
Q. Has the Tiger frenzy taken a little bit of the heat off, as far as you having to deal with so many things?
TOM LEHMAN: No, it's been the same for me as it was at the end of last year. But I enjoy it. It's nice coming to a tournament and being asked to come to the press room. It means that you've done something good. And so there's a good side and there's -- the good side is you have those requests. The bad side is, that I haven't -- I have yet to learn how to deal properly with it all. And someone like Tiger, I'm sure, he's a little more insulated than I am. I think it's harder to get to Tiger than it is to get to Tom Lehman.
Q. It's harder to get to Tiger than it is to get to Bill Clinton.
TOM LEHMAN: I think everybody in the world can walk up to Tom Lehman and say, "Tom, how about 20 minutes for an interview?" They know if I'm in a reasonable mood I'll say sure. That's what I'm dealing with. I like to please people. I don't like people to walk away upset. So I try to do my best to be accommodating.
Q. You said you feel like you need hard work to get back into it. You've got some nice practice facilities out here, have you been working hard here?
TOM LEHMAN: I worked all day yesterday. I spent all day Saturday on the putting green, chipping and putting, and half the day Sunday. I feel like I've been putting in the time I need to put in. It takes time to get things rolling. Momentum is a huge thing in golf, in any short, momentum is huge. And when the momentum is going your way, you can do no wrong. You hit a shot in the trees and it kicks off to the tree to the fairway and off the fairway to the green to make a birdie. And then it seems the bank off the tree goes off the base, and you have to chip off sideways to make a bogey.
Q. You started off strong three or four tournaments, is there a point where the momentum changed?
TOM LEHMAN: No, I really think that it was -- I took a month off after the MCI, leading up to The Masters. I think I finished 6th at the Players, and then 12th at Augusta, and 4th at the MCI, I was playing pretty good, not great, but pretty good. And then just needed to take some time off to be with the family. I took a month off and so just getting back into the swing of things has been difficult.
Q. Has it helped to get that momentum back by coming back to a place where you've had great success?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think it helps to be playing on places that you're comfortable.
Q. You know you can play this course well?
TOM LEHMAN: The big thing with me is putting. When I feel like I'm making some putts I feel very confident. And when you're not putting well, you have a week like last week at Colonial. Even though I like that place a lot, when you don't make the putts, it makes golf no fun. Even though you come to a place you like a lot, if you're not getting the ball to drop in the hole, it's difficult to get the ship going in the right direction.
Q. Just how much have you played Congressional?
TOM LEHMAN: I haven't played there since '84.
Q. What do you think about Congressional and the U.S. Open?
TOM LEHMAN: The course is basically unknown to me. I don't recall much of it. And so I know what to expect, you can expect fast greens and firm greens and high rough. Just like it is everywhere else in the U.S. Open. If you hit the ball straight and you have a good putting week you're going to do just fine.
Q. Tom, I'm not sure if you'll exactly be able to help me on this thing, but I'm from Akron. I know you're involved in the players, in the association and everything on TOUR. There's been a lot of talk about a change in the World Series of Golf up there and as part of a World Series type of thing, whatever, with different tournaments, have you been involved in that at all or talks? I know it's very uncertain, we're trying to peg it down a little bit.
TOM LEHMAN: I heard the same type of thing, is that -- rumors. And I am on the policy board, but there really hasn't been any talk amongst us what exactly the tournament is going to be like. Personally, I'm in favor of keeping tournaments who have been loyal to the TOUR for a long time, in the fold, let them do what they want to do. And I don't really like the idea of us kind of dictating, you are going to do this and if you don't like it, then good-bye. I don't think the TOUR is doing that, but I just think a tournament like the Hawaiian Open, has been loyal to the TOUR for 32 years, you do your very best to keep United Airlines and Waialae to keep the TOUR there.
Q. What rumors have you heard about the World Series?
TOM LEHMAN: Same thing, maybe a bigger field. They're going to include like the members of the Presidents Cup teams and the Ryder Cup teams, and just along those lines.
Q. Tom, public perception has gotten to the point where it's almost like there are three classes of tournaments, the one Tiger wins, the one Tiger doesn't show, and then the one Tiger blows. Can you see a situation where there will come a time when the public can see him getting beat, where great players like yourself or Tom Watson, whoever it might be, can just go out there and play well and have the public see it as he was beaten this week, and it wasn't just whatever mistakes he might have made?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I think that eventually the excitement is going to take on a more realistic tone. Right now, it's at a point where Tiger Woods is Superman, and everybody else is just a bunch of loyal serfs out there trying to keep up. That's not the case at all. He's a great player, but there's several great players out here, there's a lot of great players out here. And any time a great player is on a roll, he's going to do some great things. You look at Nick Price for about three years, and look at Greg Norman, or Steve Elkington at the Players Championship this year, what he did. So there's a lot of really good players out here. And when the good guys get going good they'll do some great things, and Tiger Woods is no different than anybody else. When he gets going good like he has been, he's going to be hard to beat. If I played my very best game for a few weeks in a row I'd be tough to beat, and so would Greg and so would Phil and Freddie and everybody else. So you don't take away anything from someone like Tiger, he's a great player, but yet he's also a competitor and you don't see the New York Knicks saying how happy they are that the Chicago Bulls are kicking their ass every week (laughter.)
Q. Is it a little unfair to other players they don't get more credit? Like David Frost last week?
TOM LEHMAN: I thought David Ogrin really made a good comment from what I heard, I wasn't there, I didn't read it. I think he said, "The headlines better be, Frost ends three-year drought and wins Colonial." That's only fair to David Frost. And if the headline is Tiger Woods finishes fourth, and Frost wins, that's not fair. That's not right. However, you've got to be a realist and understand that the people that watch golf really like Tiger Woods and are really interested in what he's doing. And he is a phenomenon. And people want to know what he's doing. And he is where the interest is. And so it would be stupid for the media to not play up to that.
Q. Is he helping all of golf, though, or is he helping primarily -- does his presence help Tiger more than rest of you guys? Is he good for the entire game?
TOM LEHMAN: I think so. I'll tell you why he's good. I've had a lot of people who -- you talk about minorities coming out to watch, the makeup of the galleries, the demographics of the galleries to watch, how they've changed. I've heard it from several reporters, writers and TV people. And a lot of those people are coming up to me or Fred and asking for my autograph and saying how much they like me as a player. So it's good for me, it's good for golf.
Q. How do you react when people ask you, how do you compare Tiger to Jack Nicklaus? What is your reaction on that?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, the record will speak for itself when it's all said and done.
Q. Tom, you talked a little bit about adjusting to the demands on your time. Does that give you an appreciation or can you even believe what's going on with Tiger, that it's probably 50 times more than what you're experiencing? He made a comment about gas stations, he's getting requests for autographs.
TOM LEHMAN: I'm sure he is. I think if you're a top player you get those requests. I mean I get the same type of thing, maybe not to that degree. But if you're until the public eye and people know who you are, you're going to get requests for autographs in the strangest places.
Q. What's your record for autographs while getting a tank of gas?
TOM LEHMAN: My record? Just a couple, probably. So you do get it, but to his degree -- see, with him -- I don't know. When he goes out in public I'm sure it's extremely difficult. But like I said before, if you want to get on the phone to call Tiger for an interview, you can just forget it. Forget it. Whereas I don't know how it is, but people must just wake up in the morning and say, I know Lehman's number, it's 602-860 -- I won't say the rest. And I think I'll give the guy a call. And the phone will ring and this is Joe Blow from the Kokomo News, can you talk to me for a few minutes? How the heck did you get my number? Usually it's my mom. Mrs. Lehman, how do I get a hold of Tom, he seems like a nice man. This is where you can find him. (Laughter.)
Q. Was there any talk among the players about him not appearing in the interview room on Sunday?
TOM LEHMAN: Who cares? That's no big deal.
Q. His motive was honorable, I think he wanted Frost and Ogrin to get some publicity.
TOM LEHMAN: Also I think he was pretty ticked. When he had a two-footer for double on 17 -- that's the only one I watched the whole day, he reached over and raked it in. Most guys in that situation would just take their time and knock it in, because they want to finish third or fourth instead of sixth or seventh. He was going to lose and didn't care if he finished 2nd or 90th.
Q. There was criticism when he didn't go in.
TOM LEHMAN: Don't criticize him. I think people are going to look to be critical of him no matter what he does. If he doesn't want to talk in the press room after he lost the tournament. He wanted to win three in a row. I'd be upset, too. If he didn't want to talk that's his prerogative.
Q. At the risk of asking you another question about Tiger, you've been in your press conference and probably 70 percent of the questions have been about Tiger, is that pretty much about the ratio that it's been?
TOM LEHMAN: It's pretty much it.
Q. Is that annoying?
TOM LEHMAN: Yeah. (Laughter.) But you get talking. You also -- you talk about -- I can start talking about Bill Clinton, and I could also put my own views in there, too. When you guys talk about Tiger, I can talk about Tiger but also explain what I feel about things. Naturally some guys are going to say, I came in here to talk about myself and that's it. Other guys will want to talk about anything. I'll pretty much talk about anything.
Q. That really sets up the stage for my question. Yesterday Watson said that money always has the potential to corrupt. And with all the contracts that are rolling in for Woods now, how do you see him handling that in the long range? How do you see him equipped to handle that?
TOM LEHMAN: I can't answer that. I don't know him. I don't know his family. All I know is the way he plays golf. So I couldn't answer that question.
Q. Did it corrupt you, money?
TOM LEHMAN: No, no.
Q. Not even slightly?
TOM LEHMAN: I don't think so.
Q. Tom, how early did you begin playing golf?
TOM LEHMAN: I started really seriously when I was about in 5th or 6th grade, so it was about 10 or 11 years old, 12.
Q. Did you get very well seriously very quickly?
TOM LEHMAN: Being in Minnesota you will get really serious for three months of the year.
Q. Serious about ice fishing?
TOM LEHMAN: Not that, either, you can have ice fishing.
Q. Did it not interest you before then?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, it's just, you know, you have to have opportunity. Until we were in about 6th grade we lived in a bigger city and it was tough to get access to a golf course. My dad played once a week. We played baseball. Once we moved to a small town in Minnesota where the golf course was more accessible, we started playing golf every day. For 3 months in the summer we played months every day, and then moved on to basketball and baseball and football.
Q. People have said the money available on TOUR can corrupt because you can make so much money finishing 7th. But can it also empower you that you can care more about winning than finishing second because you know you're going to cash a big check, whether you finish first or 6th, say. Did you find that at all, when you got to a point where you were making a good living that you could then take another step and worry only about trying to win?
TOM LEHMAN: I haven't thought about money on a golf course hardly ever. To me it's more important to me for my pride that if I'm not going to win that I finish 4th, rather than 5th or 6th rather than 7th. And if I'm not going to win I want to finish the best I can. But I can appreciate the idea or the feeling that when you're in the hunt and you've realized you've lost, that you just don't care what that two-footer does right there so you just tap it. I've been there, a lot of guys have been there. When you expect to win so much and then you come to the point where you realize you're not, it's a difficult thing. I know last year at the U.S. Open, as I was sitting there in the bunker with that big lip in front of me, it was the realization hit me I'm going to have a hard time just tying. And that's a very frustrating feeling. When you try to win and rallying that your going to be up there 10 feet from the hole and you have a heck of a time breaking even. And you may lose, that's frustrating.
Q. One thing about the Open, do you think more about that last hole or the previous 71 you played so well to be in the hunt there?
TOM LEHMAN: Oh, I think about -- I think about the fact that I played pretty well. I played actually very well, through the course of the whole tournament. I feel like it was just meant for Steve Jones to win. I had a lot of good shots that turned out in bad spots and that's just the way it goes.
Q. How do you feel about a U.S. Open ending on a par-3?
TOM LEHMAN: That will be interesting. I prefer it to be a par-4. But it's unique.
Q. When all this dies down do you look forward to there could be some great rivalries down the road? You're a very competitive guy. Jack talked yesterday about this might foster some really good rivalries, maybe not right now, but do you look forward to that?
TOM LEHMAN: I think it will be good for golf. I think it would be bad for golf to have one person win every week. It's great for a while, but people lose interest. It would be like tennis like Sampras or Bjorn Borg or Sampras. Is it going to be Michael or Conners or Borg that's going to win, don't even watch or don't pay attention, because you know those guys are going to win. And that's not good for the sport.
Q. How close is golf to the guarantee appearance money?
TOM LEHMAN: Out here?
TOM LEHMAN: On the PGA TOUR?
TOM LEHMAN: I think we're just -- it will never happen, at least I hope it doesn't.
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