While Tom Lehman isn't in the prime of his career anymore, he has kept a reasonable and steady pace for 14 years. His professional career took some turns but he's been playing professionally since 1983. Just to give you some perspective: Tom Lehman played the first day of the Panasonic Las Vegas Pro on September 15, 1983 and it was the same day that now fellow competitor Kevin Na was brought into the world. This is completely unheard of in any other high level competitive sport and it is a primary reason why I love Golf.
Lehman's career on the PGA Tour began at the Bing Crosby National Tournament in February of 1983 but wasn't able to gain any traction until the early nineties. In his first year, Lehman played in 23 events and earned $9,413 which was good enough for 182nd on the money list. In comparison, Jose Coceres was 182nd on the money list in 2005 and earned $269,705. Times have changed. While he competed in as many Tour events as possible from 1983-1985, he wasn't able to capitalize on his opportunities.
It wasn't until almost 10 years after his PGA Tour debut that Lehman's perseverance began to pay off. He earned $579,093 and was 24th on the money list by year's end. His best finish came at the Hardee's Golf Classic in which he tied for second.
During the years he didn't play on the PGA Tour Lehman played in Asia, South Africa, and on the Ben Hogan Tour in the United States. In 1991 everything began to come together as he finished first on the Hogan Tour to secure his card and he hasn't given it up since.
He is currently 16th on the PGA Tour career money list and his wins don't seem to match his earnings. Tom Lehman has only won five times on the PGA Tour. Included in his wins are the 1994 Memorial Tournament, 1995 Colonial National Invitational, 1996 British Open Championship, 1996 Tour Championship, and the 2000 Phoenix Open which was his most recent win. I suppose if you had to pick 5 tournaments to win in your career he couldn't have chosen much better. The Memorial Tournament and Tour Championship are both notable events as is the coveted British Open.
Tom Lehman, like many other generous Tour members, has used his golf to benefit others. In 2001 he won the Charles Bartlett Award for his unselfish contributions to golf and he has raised over $4.2 million for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund through his charity golf tournament.
I suppose you can say that Lehman has been an almost silent but steady force. He hasn't won a tremendous amount of tournaments but has won a lot of money through determination to improving his game. Since securing his Tour card in the early 90's his performance has been exceptional. He started strong in 2005 with a T9 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and a T2 at the Buick inVitational a week later. A couple of months and one missed cut later Fred Funk edged him out at The Players Championship by one stroke. I believe he will get one more trophy to add to his mantle before his 50th birthday. It will come either in early 2006 or late in 2007. That leaves room for the distractions and recovery time associated with being Ryder Cup captain.
Lehman is, as I just mentioned, the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Late in 2004 we reported that "He made the Ryder Cup three straight times, starting in 1995, compiling a 5-3-2 overall record and a 3-0 singles record" which is very impressive. I wouldn't say the rumor mill has been swirling with second guessing about Lehman's captaincy yet, but there have been a couple of dissenting voices. Among them was Tiger Woods who felt that his good buddy Mark O'Meara should have been chosen. While I think the PGA of America would have had good reason to choose O'Meara over Lehman because his resumé is better, I didn't find Woods' reasons for O'Meara's captaincy compelling:
I thought he should have been captain, because of the heritage of where he's from. He's Irish, so it would have been a perfect fit for Mark O'Meara to be the Ryder Cup captain in Ireland, especially as he goes to the K Club every summer to fish.
He's Irish and likes to fish in the land of his ancestors. Right. And I think Ireland is a swell country with perfect weather so pick me.
Cody Thrasher, in Thrash Talk, expressed that he didn't think Lehman was the best choice for Ryder Cup captain because he wants to be a player captain, splitting his attention between qualifying and being the captain. Personally, I don't feel that he will qualify for a Ryder Cup berth. It would be a story if he did, but its a sure bet he won't. I suppose I would have to agree with Cody's assessment to some degree. I think Lehman should go out and play the best he can in 2006 in a relaxed frame of mind and let his game do the talking. In the outside chance he qualifies, it would be tough for him to maintain focus and the right team chemistry as a player/coach.
I believe he is a good choice for captain because of his competitiveness. Jack Nicklaus once said "Tom is a fierce competitor. He has all the shots and he's tough." Lehman will make a fine Ryder Cup captain if the players let him do his job. Tiger needs to show some maturity by putting his personal preference to one side and get out there and win some matches regardless of who the captain is. Tom is a solid enough individual to handle himself as captain and I think he'll put the right people together when it comes time.
Time is running out for Lehman to win on the PGA Tour again. Ryder Cup captains haven't flourished after completing their task because of the toll it takes mentally and the natural decline that comes with age. I do think that Lehman will win again. He will experience one of those "It is now or never" moments and have another surge.
Photo Credits: © Unknown.