U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Lehman's Game Appears to be Well-Suited
June 30, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass.
By Dave Shedloski
Tom Lehman is, arguably, one of the finest U.S. Open players of his generation, a prototypical competitor programmed to hit fairways and greens, remain patient, commit to a game plan and accept that par is a good score.
All that is missing is a win. But he’s in position to do something about that. Again.
After a steady 2-under-par 68 Friday at Salem Country Club, Lehman is comfortably in the hunt in the 38th U.S. Senior Open Championship. This is a recording. This is now the fifth time in his nine U.S. Senior Open starts that the Minnesota native has stood 10th or better after the second round. More impressively, he has yet to finish outside the top 25, including last year’s tie for 11th at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, when he closed with the day’s low score, a 66.
Lehman, who has his son, Thomas, on the bag, came into this week’s championship sporting a 70.34 stroke average in those eight starts, and two rounds in the 60s at Salem give him 13 in 34 rounds. When he holed out on No. 18 Friday, his 7-under 133 total was good for a tie for third with Fred Couples.
“My game suits,” said Lehman, 58, who has ranked in the top 20 in fairways and greens in seven of his eight previous starts in the championship. “I’m typically a very good lag putter, and I typically drive the ball well. So I don’t have a fear of 50-footers. I don’t have a fear of putting a driver in my hands. I don’t really have a whole lot of fear with hitting a shot.
“There’s no secrets. You have to do everything well.”
During a five-win career on the PGA Tour, which included a victory in the 1996 Open Championship, Lehman appeared destined to win the U.S. Open. He held the 54-hole lead in three straight championships from 1995-97, and he added a tie for fifth in 1998 to his consecutive finishes of third, T-2 and third – but no wins.
Lehman came closest to winning the U.S. Senior Open in 2012, when he finished joint second behind Roger Chapman at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich.
As well as Lehman still hits the ball, putting tends to hold him back. But this year he ranks 16th on the PGA Tour Champions in that category, making more by not worrying about making any. It’s the kind of psychological game a golfer plays on himself. Don’t think about results, only the process.
“I've made a couple little changes,” he said, “which has allowed me to get my head more still, which has really allowed me to approach putting like I approach my ball-striking, which is just the process of it. Not be too worked up about a miss.”
Unlike Phil Mickelson, who has finished second a record six times in the U.S. Open, Lehman doesn’t appear desperate to add this title to his 10 PGA Tour Champions victories, which includes three senior majors. But it is the obvious void in his stellar resume.
“I think every one is a good win, but if you had to rank wins that would be bigger than others, this would be one of them,” he said.
He won’t deny this week is more special than most, because everybody feels it. The crowds are bigger, the stakes are higher. History calls. You have to deal with that in addition to a difficult golf course. “It’s a big tournament and a lot of guys want to win. So, handling your emotions, that’s why I say this is the kind of course which forces you to stay in the moment. Every shot to me is so tricky out there.
“That’s how you play good golf is just one shot at a time. So, if you continue to do that, then you add them up at the end, usually you’re somewhat happy.”
Perhaps one of these years he’ll leave extremely happy. He has time. But right now he is concentrating on the process, not looking too far ahead, not worrying about the miss.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.