Great debate: Did Tiger choke?
By BILL HUFFMAN
A few thoughts and shots left over from the 91st PGA Championship:
Did he or didn’t he choke?
That’s the question that has been hotly debated since Y.E. Yang took down Tiger Woods in Sunday’s shocking conclusion at Hazeltine National.
The furor erupted after nationally syndicated columnist Jay Mariotti, he of AOL Sports, Fanhouse.com and ESPN Sports fame, slapped the C-word on Woods in the aftermath of arguably the best major drama of 2009.
Here was the way Mariotti spun it:
It was the moment that couldn’t happen, the day Woods relinquished a 54-hole lead in a major, the one place in time when the greatest golfer of his generation – prepare yourself for what I’m about to say here – CHOKED away the 91st PGA Championship and let a hungrier, more focused, more composed golfer kick the stuffing out of him.
Wrong. Tiger didn’t “choke,’’ he got beat. And this is why guys who don’t cover golf for a living should be careful what they write. Oftentimes these shoot-from-the-hip columnists who like to stir up the golf pot don’t really understand the nuances of the game.
Sure, Tiger let a two-shot lead going into the final round get away for the first time ever in a major. But Woods didn’t choke it away; Yang took it from him.
That’s golf, a game where you can’t control what the other guy will do. And the South Korean did a lot, like the chip-in eagle at the 14th hole, where Woods was waiting impatiently to make a short birdie putt, and then at the 18th hole, where Yang stuffed a 3-wood from a ridiculous position in the fairway – first cut of rough, over a tree to a tucked pin — while Woods was contemplating his second shot to square the match and force a playoff.
Granted, Tiger couldn’t make the putts when they counted, but that’s not choking. Choking, as I understand it, would be more like Kenny Perry’s finish in the Masters this year, where he led by two shots with two holes to play and then made back-to-back bogeys, including a skulled chip at the 17th where Perry admitted his hand shook, and a bladed chip at the second hole in OT that cost him the green jacket.
Which is not to say Tiger didn’t blow this opportunity to win the PGA. But you can blow it, Jay, without choking it away.
If golf needed a “stimulus package’’ it got one when Yang turned the golf world upside down by beating the previously unbeatable Woods.
Yes, it was a 9.9 on golf’s Richter Scale. The proof was in the TV ratings, which soared 88 percent from a year ago, when Padraig Harrington won and Woods was home on the couch nursing his repaired knee.
To put Yang’s upset of Woods in further perspective: 35.7 million viewers watched all or part of the final round, or about 16.7 million viewers more than a year ago.
Despite the jump in ratings, the PGA still finished second in 2009 behind the Masters with a rating/share of 6.6/15 compared to the Masters’ 8.3/20. But it was the highest rated PGA since 2002, when Rich Beem hung on to beat Woods.
Obviously, Woods drives ratings even if the Masters seems to stand in a class of its own. That the PGA edged the U.S. Open (4.7/11) and British Open (3.8/12) also is heady stuff for what is generally regarded as the fourth major in terms of importance.
It is a proven fact that when Tiger is in the mix, usually in the role of the winner, TV ratings skyrocket and everything else in the game goes up: rounds of golf, retail golf sales, golf lessons, golf vacations, etc. But the irony here is that Yang winning might actually do more to promote the game and encourage play throughout Asia and the world than had Tiger prevailed.
YING AND YANG
Golf writers like catchy words, and how many didn’t jump on the Ying-Yang metaphor at least once during the PGA?
For the record, it’s “yin yang’’ in Chinese or Korean, even though most Westerners refer to it as ying-yang. In Chinese philosophy yin yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and yet independent of each other in the natural world, or complementary opposites within a greater whole.
Gee, at least we perhaps unknowingly got the definition right, as Yang and Tiger “Yin’’ Woods certainly were “complementary opposites within a greater whole.’’
It’s just an opinion, but did you get the feeling that Yang actually benefited from the cultural differences coming down the stretch, that it benefited him greatly that he wasn’t fully aware of what he was doing at the moment? That had he been an American trying to knock off Woods that it might not have come as easily?
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a player waving at the camera as he came down the homestretch while battling Tiger in a major? Not even Phil Mickelson would be doing that, like Yang was on the 16th hole.
One more thing about Yang: As we all know by now, he is the first Asian-born player to win a major. At the same time, Tiger’s mother was Thai, or Asian, so shouldn’t Woods already have gotten some of that credit?
Reporting on Woods is not easy, chiefly because if you say anything the world’s No. 1 player doesn’t like he tends to “diss’’ you. CBS became aware of this a little over a year ago when Woods quit talking to Peter Kostis over something the Scottsdale broadcaster said about his swing. (A feud since resolved.)
So CBS, being like every other TV media outlet, especially the “bow-down-to-Tiger’’ Golf Channel, assigned David Feherty to cover Woods. And say this about Feherty, he does a great job when it comes to sucking up to Tiger.
Over and over as Yang and Woods battled it out Sunday, Feherty reminded us about Tiger’s penchant for making the big plays under pressure and how Yang was outmatched. The pinnacle of CBS openly rooting for Tiger came at the par-3 17th hole, where Woods’ tee shot airmailed the green into deep rough.
“Absolutely all over the flag!’’ Feherty screamed of Woods’ errant shot, which had the line but was way off in terms of distance.
Once he realized the shot wasn’t close, Feherty countered: “He’s not guessed right (on club selection) all week.’’
And on one of the biggest shots of the day, neither did Feherty.
WHAT WERE THE ODDS?
Sure, it would have been quite a feat had Woods gone his entire career without ever blowing a 54-hole lead in the majors. But what were the odds considering how many times Tiger has put himself in that position?
After 14 straight majors of looking invincible, Tiger finally proved to one and all that he is a mere mortal capable of being defeated. Just as incredible as the streak in the majors, however, were Woods’ 36 wins in a row where he had taken the 54-hole lead into the final round dating back to 1996, the year he came out on tour and gave it up to little-known Ed Fiori in the John Deere Classic.
Unbelievably, the Associated Press story in the local paper did not mention one word about the demise of Padraig Harrington, who would have finished tied with Tiger had it not been for a disastrous 8 at the eighth hole, a simple par 3 that stretched a mere 167 yards.
But those 8s happen when you dunk two balls in the water, as the defending champ did. And for the second straight week it looked like Harrington skulled a wedge out of deep greenside rough when it mattered most.
Needless to say, Paddy will have a gut check next time he faces such a shot in the clutch, especially if it comes in a major.
The jury still is out on whether Lucas Glover is a one-major wonder, but the U.S. Open champ did look better at times during the PGA, when he snuck within one shot of the lead on several occasions.
In the end, the former winner of the 2003 Gila River Classic in Phoenix finished fifth (2 under). But that was quite an improvement from the British Open, where Glover missed the cut. And a long, long way from the start of the season when he failed to qualify for the Masters.
PLAYER OF YEAR
So who is player of the year now that four relatively “average guys’’ split up the four majors and Woods didn’t win one?
Yang? He’s the only guy with another PGA Tour win (Honda Classic) besides his major. Glover has the most top 10s (four) and money ($3.4 million) of the major winners.
Stew Cink has three other top 10s, and Masters winner Angel Cabrera has only one other top 10.
Tiger, meanwhile, has five wins and twice as much money ($7.66 million) as Glover and still could make POY a moot point if he wins the FedEx Cup.
Then again, don’t you have to win a major in order to really qualify for player of the year?
None of the four major winners for 2009 came out of the top 20 in the world. Cabrera was No. 69 when he won the Masters, Glover was No. 71 when he was crowned U.S. Open champ, Stewart Cink came the closest at being No. 33 at the British Open, and PGA winner Yang came from the furthest back at No. 110.
Yang\‘s shocker caps crazy 2009 season
By BILL HUFFMAN
A startling conclusion to a crazy season in the major championships occurred Sunday when Tiger Woods finally let a big one get away.
South Korea’s Y.E. Yang was the winner of the 91st PGA Championship, the first Asian-born player to win a major. That he took down Woods in the process was a bigger deal.
In 14 straight majors, Tiger had taken the lead into the final round and went on to be crowned champ. This time Yang knocked him out coming down the stretch, then raised his arms — and his bag — in victory as Woods wore an expression that clearly said: I let this one get away.
Not necessarily, as Yang’s chip-in eagle at the 14th along with his incredible shot over a tree that settled eight feet from the cup at No. 18 had a lot to do with it, too.
“I didn’t execute. I didn’t make a putt and he did,’’ Woods said in the aftermath, clearing licking his wounds as he imploded with a 3-over-par 75 to Yang’s 70, a turnabout that produced a three-shot shocker as Woods blew – for the first time “almost’’ ever – a two-shot lead going into the last 18 holes.
The biggest win of his life was not lost on Yang, who circled the ring with his arms raised like a prize fighter who had just knocked out the champ. In reality, Tiger’s conservative strategy over the final 36 holes backfired while Yang played all out.
“It’s going to be a bit of a crazy party for (South Koreans), especially my friends,’’ said Yang, who certainly breaks the stereotype of the stoic Asian.
That quote came through an interpreter, but the message was clear: His Rocky-like victory simply rocked the golf world. It also ended a year in the majors where the “wrong guy’’ won every time.
First it was Angel Cabrera in the Masters, who came out of nowhere to beat Kenny Perry. Unbelievably, Perry blew a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Then Lucas Glover, a dark horse at best, plays steady down the stretch to beat Phil Mickelson in the U.S .Open. Mickelson had been a sentimental/emotional favorite after Mickelson’s wife Amy had announced she has breast cancer.
If that’s not enough, a REAL sentimental favorite, Tom Watson, leads all the way to the final hole of the British Open before Stewart Cink sneaks in a putt on his 72nd hole and overpower Watson in a playoff.
But the best was saved for last as Yang found his Ying. It was tough for Tiger to swallow, but it was good – really good – for the game of golf.
Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy tied for third and Glover ended up fifth. And poor Padraig Harrington, the Irishman had hung towards the top of the leader board most of the week until two errant shots into the water at No. 8 and the subsequent quintuple-bogey 8 sunk his chances.
Nobody really cared about the "others” as the match-play confrontation between Yang and Tiger on the back nine turned out to be the toast of 2009. The only question left to answer, really, is who will be the player of the year? (Yang, whose two wins include a major?)
Oh, yes, and one more thought: Isn’t it slightly ironic that perhaps one of the most memorable duels of all-time in the PGA really came down to match play?
For its first 52 years, match play was the format of the PGA.
Tiger proves he\‘s \‘human\’ after all
By BILL HUFFMAN
Most of the contenders who are chasing him at the 91st PGA Championship keep insisting that Tiger Woods is “human’’ and therefore capable of losing a lead in a major at some point in his illustrious career.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe Woods’ game on the big stage isn’t as certain as death or taxes.
For the most part, Tiger looked like a mere mortal Saturday, when he took a four-stroke lead into the third round at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., but could do no better than a 1-under-par 71. That left the world’s No. 1 player at 8-under 208 — two shots in front of Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and South Korea’s Y.E.Yang.
. Also involved in golf’s version of “Mission Impossible’’ are U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover (4 under), Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (4 under) and the unsinkable Ernie Els (3 under).
But the fact remains Woods hasn’t lost one on his way to 14 major championships, all 14 of which he had the lead going into the final round. Breaking it down further, Tiger is eight-for-eight when he’s had the lead after 36 holes, as he did here in Minnesota, and he’s working on his fifth major where he’s gone wire-to-wire.
Where will the challenge come from if one does arise? Defending champ Harrington, who has won three majors in the past two years, would seem the most likely candidate to put together a charge. But Paddy won’t be paired with Woods; Yang will. Whether that turns out to be a good thing or not remains to be seen.
“You’re better off being paired with Tiger rather than being ahead of him,’’ said Harrington, who bogeyed the last hole for a 69. “But either way, you’ve got to play your own game.’’
Considering Harrington shot 73 when he went head-to-head with Woods on Friday, and Vijay Singh stumbled in with a 75 after tagging along with Tiger on Saturday, be careful what you wish for.
Despite doing no better than a 71 this time around, Woods seemed satisfied with his play that included a rather docile two birdies and a bogey. He did have a chance to expand his lead to three shots at the last hole, but never sniffed the cup on an eight-foot birdie putt.
“I had the lead, and I played conservatively,’’ Woods said of his strategy that might backfire if someone can get the putter rolling today. “Other than a few (missed) putts, I thought it was a pretty solid day.’’
Perhaps, but just the fact that Tiger’s lead was sliced in half when everyone thought he’d go deeper gives a tad bit of hope to those who claim he’s indeed “human.’’ . . .
Don’t discount Yang, the ever-smiling South Korean who earlier this year captured the Honda Classic. Even though the TV guys give him little notice, his 67 was the day’s best round and included three straight birdies beginning at No. 14.
But there’s more to the ying of the Yang, who holds the distinction of beating Woods in the 2007 HSBC Championship in China. He also has four other international victories and has won almost $2 million this year in his first full season on the PGA Tour. . . .
Stenson made his presence felt with a 68 that could have been even better had the tall Swede not missed short birdie putts on both the 17th and 18th holes.
Stenson might be a player to keep an eye on today. Especially if he closes like he did in the Players Championship, where his final-round 66 left the field in the dust as he overcame a five-shot deficit to win by four shots. . . .
Making himself known this week is Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen, who is 3 under after getting it to 5 under through the first 15 holes before tumbling back with bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17. Phil Mickelson is on his way to one of his worst finishes ever in a major, as he’s 8 over going into today’s final round after a frustrating 76.
Kjeldsen finished tied for seventh earlier this year in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, but has yet to win worldwide in 14 years as a pro. . . .
Els got to 6 under through 15 holes then promptly gave it away with three bogeys on his last three holes. Particularly painful for the South African was a botched effort from inside 3 feet at the 17th.
Still, it’s been a big comeback for the Big Easy, who opened with a 75 and then came back with a 68. Not what most had expected after Els’ debacle at the British Open, where he missed the cut behind un-Ernie-like, 15-over aggregate. . . .
“I think the biggest issue for me is I’ve got to get this putter straightened out,’’ he said despite working on his putting all week.
Perhaps his lack of play is more to blame, as Mickelson has competed in only four tournaments since his wife Amy announced that she has breast cancer in early May. . . .
Michael Allen never did get any airtime even when the Scottsdale pro surged into
the top 10 on several occasions at 3 under.
But Allen, who got into the field by winning the Senior PGA Championship in May, couldn’t keep it steady, as his scorecard included six birdies, six bogeys and six pars. Especially painful: He got to 3-under with a birdie at the 15th hole then gave it all away with three straight bogeys to end his round. . . .
There are 28,000 PGA club professionals in the U.S., and two made the cut at the PGA. They are Grant Sturgeon (8 over) and Greg Bisconti (9 over). Even though both are way down the leader board, one will get to stand next to the winner today at the awards ceremony as the PGA’s “low club pro.’’
Tiger looks like a lock for 15th major
By BILL HUFFMAN
Tiger Woods opened and closed Friday’s second round with bogeys, but left little doubt that the 91st PGA Championship still goes through him. With a four-shot lead over five players at Hazeltine National entering Saturday’s third round his 15th major championship seems to be all but a formality.
In other words the popular opinion that followed Woods’ one-shot lead after the first round – “Tiger will win’’ — only got stronger on Day 2. Actually, the tournament might have been over after 12 holes on Thursday even before TNT came on the air. Yeah, Tiger looked that good right out of the chute.
For those who don’t adhere to the “Tiger is God’’ theory, their hopes were buoyed briefly on Friday, when Tiger messed up the first hole and then found himself in a four-way tie just four holes into the round. And Woods was struggling, up against the wall with eight-foot saves (that he made) at Nos. 3 and 4.
But a back-nine blitz by Tiger that included three straight birdies beginning at the 14th hole got everyone talking about “it’s over’’ again, and that might certainly have been the case had Tiger’s eagle putts at Nos. 14 and 15 found their mark, which they nearly did. Even when Woods gave one back with a bogey at the 18th for a 2-under 70 and a 7-under-par 137 total, all those who were in hot pursuit could do was cool their jets and hope for a few “breaks’’ on the weekend.
Those five players at 3 under include defending champ Padraig Harrington, who shared the lead for much of the day before three straight bogeys beginning at the 11th hole put the brakes on him coupled with a bad bogey at the 18th; Vijay Singh, who didn’t win two PGAs just on his congenial personality alone; Lucas Glover, the U.S. Open champ who is trying to prove he’s no one-major wonder; Ross Fisher, the Englishman who seems to show up at all the majors; and possibly the one-and-only pretender in the group, Australian Brendan Jones. . . .
Through 27 holes, Tiger and Paddy looked like they were going head to head in a marathon that dated back to last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Hopefully, they won’t be put on the clock this time, although Harrington no longer is in Woods’ group as they move to the weekend. That “honor’’ goes to Vijay. . . .
The reincarnation of Seve Ballesteros is upon us in Alvaro Quiros, the Spaniard with the best “burns’’ in golf. The 26-year-old Quiros is longer than Daly in J.D.’s prime. Just don’t expect him to be there Sunday even if the cool kid from Cadiz oozes talent. He was one of those at 4-under for awhile Saturday before falling back to earth with five bogeys that left him 1 over. . . .
The biggest surprise of he day might have been Ernie Els coming back with a 68 to move among the leaders at 1 under after opening with a 75. After Els missed the cut at the British Open by stumbling in at 15-over-par, we seriously thought nothing might be easy for the Big Easy. . . .
What’s not to like about Rory McIlroy? The 20-year-old kid from Ireland got to 2 under through 16 holes before a double at No. 17 dropped him back to even. At the same time, remember what has happened to Sergio Garcia since he was a promising youngster. It’s true, until you’ve won a major you’ve only got “potential.’’ . . .
Speaking of Garcia, is Sergio the next Phil Mickelson (zero-for-44 before he won his first major)? The clock struck midnight on Garcia this week, as he was playing in his last major as a 29-year-old. Yep, “the best player never to have won a major’’ missed the cut, crumpling down the stretch to end up 5 over. . . .
Speaking of a bad dream, could Adam Scott be the next David Duval? A couple more 82s in a major, and who knows? When you follow up an 82 with a 79, as Scott did this week, and you ending up missing three out of four cuts in the majors this season, people start to whisper. . . .
It was great to see Minnesota’s own Tom Lehman (also from Scottsdale) make the cut, which came at 4 over. Especially after Lehman made four bogeys on his first six holes Friday to slip to 4 over before an eagle at No. 7 brought the biggest roar of the day. It helps when everyone from your hometown of Alexandria is calling your name, and it worked for Lehman, who ended up 2 over. . . .
The 10-man delegation from Arizona is now down to four players. Those making the cut included Tim Clark (even), Geoff Ogilvy (even), Michael Allen (1 over) and Lehman.
It’s amazing to watch the wacky world of Lee Westwood, who seems to come up with all kinds of ways to lose majors. His coup de grace this time may have come at No. 17, where he arrived at the green in 4 under and then promptly three-jacked from three feet for double bogey to kill any momentum. . . .
Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk all hit the cut line (4 over) right on the head. But being 11 shots behind Woods with 36 holes to play is certain to give them headaches. There’s a better chance of hell freezing over than this trio of pre-tournament favorites taking home the Wannamaker Trophy. . . .
If Tiger does prevail on Sunday it will be his fifth PGA Championship moving him alongside Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus. . . .
A quick glance at the leaderboard tells us there are five Europeans in the top 12 and only two Americans (Woods and Glover). Three of those Europeans are Englishman (Ian Poulter, Fisher and Westwood), and remember England’s Tony Jacklin prevailed here in the 1970 U.S. Open. . . .
Hopefully CBS will get over TNT’s habit this week of making up excuses every time a player misses a one-, two- or three-footer. Haven’t we heard enough about the “flowering poannua bumping up the greens’’ late in the day? . . .
The worst moment of this PGA came Thursday when John Daly withdrew, citing an old back injury caused by a photographer’s flash – a photographer that Daly sued (and lost). Then his coach says Daly “needs to rest’’ because he’s lost 90 pounds on a diet that is self-induced via a rubber-band at the top of his stomach. Geez, do you think Daly’s demise has anything to do with his age (43) and the fact he’s been drinking hard for 25 years?
\‘Homeboy\’ Lehman may learn from PGA
By BILL HUFFMAN
Tom Lehman could have been the golf coach at the University of Minnesota. Instead, he’s a 50-year-old PGA Tour veteran with five wins who is playing in perhaps his last major championship – in Minnesota, at least.
“Played here a few times,’’ said the former Golden Gopher star on Wednesday in reference to the site of this week’s 91st PGA Championship – Hazeltine National Golf Club in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska.
“Not a huge number of times. But being a Gopher and University of Minnesota graduate, we played here occasionally in the springs. So I’ve seen the course change over the years, no doubt.’’
Lehman, a long-time Scottsdale resident, still clings to his Minnesota past, like most of us do when it comes to the early days of our lives.
“I enjoy it,’’ he said of his return to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,’’ the biggest this week being Lake Hazeltine. “You never lose your roots. Your roots are what they are and Minnesota is always going to be home.
“I’ve lived in Arizona for 20 years, so I now have two lives, really. One where I’ve planted roots and raised our family in Arizona, and the other where Minnesota is still home.
“I actually feel like I’ve got two homes and the fans make me feel like that. They’ve been very gracious and supportive through my practice rounds. And you can tell that they really are pulling for me and for anybody else who has any connection to the state to do well.’’
Lehman, who listed himself from “Scottsdale’’ on his official PGA entry form, is heading what is believed to be the smallest delegation of Arizona-based golfers to a major in recent memory. Even the small town of Chaska is slightly larger than the 10 guys who will represent the Valley of the Sun.
Seriously, it’s difficult to remember the last time Arizona wasn’t well into double digits in terms of entries for a major. The first three majors were packed with 45 Arizona-based guys, but this time around for the PGA we’re missing a notable few, like Billy Mayfair, Mark Calcavecchia, Ryan Moore, Jeff Quinney and Chez Reavie, who all were here at the PGA last year but failed to qualify this time around.
Plus, there’s no Ricky Barnes, the big Scottsdale kid who was the surprise of the U.S. Open. And we don’t have an Arizona-based PGA club pro among the 20 who made the field by qualifying at the National Club Pro Championship last month.
So who is here from Arizona besides Minnesota’s native son Tom Lehman? Well, one guy is his fellow Champions Tour rookie Michael Allen, who got in with his stunning win in May at the Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Country Club in Ohio. Like Lehman, who won his Champions debut in the Legends of Golf with partner Bernhard Langer, Allen shocked the golf world by making a senior major his first win after going zero-for-334 on the PGA Tour.
Others include Scottsdale’s Pat Perez, Kevin Streelman and Bubba Watson, as well as Valley part-timers Aaron Baddeley, Tim Clark, Mathew Goggin, Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Casey — IF Casey, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, recovers from a chest-muscle injury before his starting time.
One thing is for certain, those who take on the gargantuan, 7,674-yard Hazeltine National will need all there strength, as the Robert Trent Jones-Rees Jones collabortation (through the years) is the longest test in major championship history.
Even though Lehman only played it occasionally as a college student, he also had a chance to assess it at the 2002 PGA, where Rich Beem took down Tiger Woods. Of course, that came after he failed to qualify for the 1991 U.S. Open won here by Payne Stewart but long before Hazeltine added another 319 yards coming into this week.
“It’s tough. It’s long,’’ said Lehman, who once upon a time when he was struggling as a young man was offered the golf coach job at the UofM but turned it down because it also included running the driving range, which became a sledding/skiing operation in the winter.
“As the course dries out (from a weekend downpour that dumped five to six inches of rain), it’s becoming less long. But there’s some really, really difficult holes, holes where par is going to be a good score no matter who you are or how far you hit it.’’
Funny thing about Hazeltine in that Dave Hill called it a “cow pasture” when it held its first U.S. Open in 1970, the one where Tony Jacklin made Hill a runner-up by seven shots.
Actually, the way the conversation went was something like this: Hill criticized the course and when someone asked what RTJ’s original version was lacking, Hill shot back: “Eighty acres and a few cows. . . . Somebody ruined a good farm.’’
Today, most people wonder if the extreme length, which probably won’t be played to the full 7,674 yards, also has “ruined a good farm.’’ It’s a good question, Lehman noted.
“To simply make a course longer where it only benefits one person, the person who is really long, to me is going in the wrong direction,’’ said Lehman, who is an architect of over a dozen courses himself, including several in both Arizona and Minnesota.
“To make it longer but also change the angle, to make it so that length is always a reward but you’ve got to hit it long and straight, now you’ve got something. The idea of just making it longer just to get the yardage does not. . . .
“The British Open (is a good example). It forces you to take the right line on the shot. If you don’t take the right line you get punished. Whether you hit it short or long, there’s a line for you. And hitting it on that line is rewarded, and that’s what needs to happen here.’’
Lehman said the 12th through 15th holes at Hazeltine National will be the toughest stretch for the PGA field to navigate. That gauntlet includes a 518-yard par 4 at the 12th, a 248-yard par 3 at the13th, and a 642-yard par 5 15th. The 14th hole only sets up as a 352-yard par 4, but the winds there make it difficult, Lehman added.
And while Lehman called his game “solid’’ he said being back in Minnesota has been better than ever even if it has been “hectic.’’ A week of fun with family and friends in Alexandria, which included a round of golf with his son Thomas – who saw the sign at the entrance of the club that read: “Home to Tom Lehman’’ — has given way to a quick weekend back home in Scottsdale to send his oldest daughter Rachael off to college, and then back to the PGA on Tuesday.
“The thing about sending a kid to college – I’m a sap! Plain and simple’’ he said of the experience. “I’m a sentimental fool. If there are any parts of a movie that make you cry, I cry.
“When I see my daughter go off to college and her new phase of life beginning, it tugs on my heart strings. There’s a part (of me) that’s excitement knowing that she’s in for a great period of her life. But there’s also the sadness knowing that things are probably going to be a little different.’’
Lehman knows his career also is on a teeter-totter, too. He has played somewhat below average on the PGA Tour, where his $416,000 in earnings in 13 tries rank him No. 141 on the money. Meanwhile, he was won over $300,000 on the Champions in just four tries. His last two outings, a tie for 60th at the British Open and a tie for eighth at the U.S. Senior Open, add fuel to the fire.
“You look at the Champions Tour and all the things that come with playing well there, well, it takes a full commitment,’’ he said. “So I really don’t see the flip-flopping back and forth lasting very long.
“I think at some point it’s going to be a decision that either I stick with the PGA Tour for another year and go fulltime, or I stick with the Champions Tour full-time and give it my full effort.’’
The answer could come this week before the home crowd, and hopefully it won’t be cruel. They say it’s hard to go home, but it’s even worse if you don’t play well.