WEDNESDAY JULY 11
TOM LEHMAN – PREVIEW INTERVIEW
Q. Happy times for you here Tom?
A. Oh yes it’s always been fun. I think everybody knows this is one of my favourite places so it is nice to be back again. The course is again in great shape, the fairways are fantastic, so it is great to come back to a place you feel so comfortable.
Q. Much time to play since you came over?
A. I played nine holes yesterday and will probably play another nine this evening. But I had a rough night last night, didn’t get to bed until about four o clock so I am a little bit wrung out today but I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.
Q. What time does your body think it is?
A. I have no idea!
Q. Did you try to go to bed before 4am?
A. I was in bed by 10.30pm but I didn’t go to sleep before 4am. I had a good book though. I brought a good book just in case and the just in case was neccesary. It is the new book by John Grisham, I’m a big fan of his – I think it’s called The Painted House. I think I got to page 300! I’m nearly finished so I’ll let you know tomorrow how it ends, okay?
Q. How has your game been Tom?
A. My game has been good, it really is. I’ve been playing really well, not getting the results I had been hoping for but I finished third one week then 20th and 24th in the Open. I’m playing way better than I’m scoring and I should be doing way better, just the one round each week is hurting me so I really feel optimistic about the way I’m playing. I feel I’m doing a lot of things really well.
Q. Do you have a particular sense of excitement for this week and next week?
A. Yes I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. This year has been a unique year for me because I won a tournament, the Tour Championship at Southern Hills in 1996 and then won at Lytham in 1996 and we’re playing both courses this year in the Majors. Southern Hills wasn’t really a course I enjoyed all that much, even the year I won. I think it is a great course but I didn’t really care for it. Whereas Lytham was a course I fell in love with the first time I set foot on it. So the thought of coming here and then going to Lytham for two weeks is something I’ve been looking forward to from the start of the year.
Q. What is it about it?
A. It is unique in its setting in the middle of town. It’s not like playing at St Andrews or Carnoustie where you are right on the edge of the sea and exposed to the elements, you are kind of in the middle of a town so it is a unique atmosphere. I just like the way the holes are set up, I like the way the course plays. In 96 it was like playing on a freeway because it was so hard the ball rolled for ever. I liked that because it brought all the trouble into play, every bunker and high mound was in play because the ball wouldn’t stop rolling.
Q. Have you been back since?
A. No, but I’ve kept in touch though. There is a fellow there called Steven Reid – I think he was the captain the year I won – he and I have kept in contact over the last five years by email and so he has kept me up to speed with the changes to the course and what is going on. I have had a few friends of mine go play there and he got them onto the course so we have developed a friendship that way.
Q. What do you think of the Tiger factor at Lytham?
A. Well at Lytham length is not a factor at all. I was talking to Loren Roberts before I came over here and he was considering not coming to play. So I said to him if there is any course you should play it is Lytham because it doesn’t matter how short you are. It is not a bombers golf course unlike St Andrews where you can take all the trouble out of play if you can hit it 300 yards. It is the kind of course where everybody is having to deal with the bunkers therefore it is the kind of course which suits anyone who can keep it in play. That is the biggest thing. I remember speaking to Eddie the professional there in 1996 on how to play the golf course and that’s what he said, you’ve got to keep the ball in the fairway. Doesn’t matter what you hit off the tee, be it one iron, three wood or driver, you’ve got to keep it in play./
Q. Would it have suited Kirk Triplett who is not coming?
A. Kirk is an extremely good player but it suits anybody who hits it straight and he is a pretty straight hitter. He is streaky though but he is like anybody else, when he is playing well he can play any course. But there are some guys who just play that kind of golf week in week out.
Q. Did you convince Loren to come over?
A. No not really, it was just typical Loren, you know he says I’m playing terrible and I’m not going to go, I ‘m going to stay home. But I said to him you know as well as I do that I’ll see you Tuesday afternoon and we’ll play!
Q. Greg Norman said in six or seven years there will be a lot of Tiger Woods’s out there?
A. There will be a lot of guys who will want to be Tiger Woods and a lot of guys who will hit the ball as far as Tiger Woods but there is only one guy who is the best and I don’t see that changing in six or seven years. The similarities in the style of play may be more, more kids swinging his way and hitting it long but it takes more than just long hitting and a nice swing to be successful. It is going to be a pretty special kid who can compete with Tiger in six or seven years.
Q. How was Retief Goosen’s win received in the States?
A. Anybody who wins the US Open is obviously somebody who has grabbed the attention and you respect the person’s game. The whole thing that happened on Sunday was pretty shocking but to his credit coming out on Monday and winning the play-off showed an incredible amount of courage in my opinion to bounce back after such a devastating little miss there to go on and win showed an awful lot of courage, guts and heart and I think everyone in the States sees it that way.
Q. Will you be more aware of him next week?
A. I think the average golf fan will be more aware of him but I think the players have always been aware of Retief and what sort of player he was and I certainly wasn’t surprised that he won the US Open. He has the type of game that when he’s on, he can definitely win.
Q. The fact that Tiger didn’t win, has that opened the door for next week?
A. Southern Hills is a course which is a great example of the fact that courses do not have to be long to be challenging. People always say we have to lengthen this and that hole but Southern Hills was only something like 6950 yards so it was not long by Tour standards yet only four guys shot under par. What it required was every shot to be hit with precision, if you mishit any shot at all you were penalised but if you hit it well you were rewarded. So I thought it was the ultimate golf course in terms of rewarding a good shot and penalising a bad one. Length wasn’t a huge factor unless you could hit it dead straight every time. Therefore I thought it was an extremely great golf course for a test like that. Lytham is a bit like that in the fact that length is not an absolute premium but accuracy is.
Q. Is this where tradition can hit back at technology?
A. Without question. If you take a hole like the tenth at Southern Hills which is a dog leg right to left and the fairway slopes from right to left, you are only hitting a three or four iron off the tee, but you had to hit it within an eight yard area on the fairway to keep it in the fairway and if you missed the fairway it was a really tough par. The hole was only 350 yards or something like that, a three iron and a wedge but if you didn’t hit a perfect three iron you were going to struggle and that’s why it was such a great golf course. The next hole was a short par three downhill where the win always came from the right and the green is short on the left hand side so the wind was blowing it right towards the big drop off. It was a good iron shot because there was trouble left and trouble right and a cross wind. The design was so great for taking advantage of the wind and the contours and required a really good golf shot. Although the technology is making us hit it longer without question, you don’t always need length. Probably for the first time ever the golf ball has gotten to the stage where it goes too far. Using the ProV1 which I do, I’ve gained at least 20 yards, and sometimes as much as 40 or 50 yards from what I used to play with the Tour Balata. Do I think the balls are now going too far? I’d say yes but you can make golf courses strategic enough to challenge the best players so that they can’t just run them over.
Q. Did you play the Lytham video before you came over or do you have it with you?
A. No I didn’t and I don’t but I remember every shot.
Q. Have you seen changes here?
A. It’s still the same course. I’ve seen the front nine, not sure about the back nine but it is still the same beautiful golf course it was five years ago.
Q. Although you have happy memories, were you soured a little by what happened at 18 last tyear?
A. I’m not bothered by that. Quite frankly I was hitting it so poorly last year that to get in and have a chance of winning was somewhat remarkable. My normal shot is a draw right to left but it was so bad last year that the only shot I could hit was a big cut. I was hitting cuts the whole day just trying to keep the ball in play somewhere. Every time I tried to hit a draw I’d pull. So I got to the 18th hole and I’d been hitting this cut so I aimed at the edge of the lake and tried to hit a little cut and I pulled it into the water. It would have been nice to hit it into the fairway without question but I don’t lose too much sleep over it.
Q. Are you able to shake Sam Torrance’s hand warmly these days?
A. I would definitely think so – I’m not sure there’s a reason not to.
Q. How do you think the USA side is shaping up for the Ryder Cup?
A. I think it is looking very strong. I think our team will be extremely strong. I haven’t looked at the standings for a few weeks but I know that Scott Hoch has moved into the top ten which I think is a great addition for the team. He has always been an extremely good player and he is playing his best golf right now and he is the kind of guy you want on your side. All the guys that have to be on the team are already solidly on the team and now it is just a matter of who rounds up the last three or four spots.
Q. What would be your favourite memory of Lytham in 1996.
A. The thing I remember most was that I had this constable, whose name was Kevin Boyd, who was my chaperone on the golf course and walked with me every step of the way. He got me from tee to green and made sure nobody bothered me. He was a big guy, about 6 feet 4 and in great shape, he was really friendly. We then got to the 18th and I hit my second shot onto the green and then the crowd started surging forward and he grabbed me and kinda pulled me through the crowd, clearing the way and pulling me through. We got to the other side and I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, ‘Tom, we’ve been through a lot of shit today but now you’re on your own!’ That’s the one thing I never forget and what sticks most in my mind. You know I was laughing about it and it was actually a calming thing because I walked up to the green and two putted to win by two – it was something that was kind of special. I traded my Dockers cap for his Lancashire constabulary helmet which I think is the property of the Queen. Hopefully he is retired by now and won’t get in trouble for that! I might though!!