Tom Lehman enjoyed the finest moment of his career on ‘England’s Golf Coast’ and now the American is hungry for more success as he prepares to return to the area for this year’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex.
Lehman won The 1996 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes and he will be aiming to capture the senior version of the Claret Jug just a few miles down England’s north-west coastline when the Championship visits Royal Birkdale Golf Club for the first time, from July 25-28.
The 2006 United States Ryder Cup Captain will be part a cast of Major Champions playing in the 27th edition of The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, along with iconic names such as defending champion Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam.
Lehman, who won the 2010 US Senior PGA Championship, finished tied tenth in last year’s Senior Open Championship at Turnberry, but he hopes Royal Birkdale’s challenging links can inspire him to success this summer.
“It will be nice to go back to the north west of England,” said Lehman. “There are a whole bunch of courses right along that coastline that are spectacular, but they are all different. Lytham is much flatter and you have to avoid those 206 bunkers. Royal Birkdale brings the slopes, the bumps and the humps more into play, and the tall grass. It is a different look and it is one that everyone likes.”
He added: “It would be a nice double to get the Senior Open alongside my Open Championship. I’ve not really come close the last couple of years. That’s a little frustrating. I’ve not been on my game in any of the years I have played in the Senior Open so far, so hopefully that will change.”
After winning the US Champions Tour Money List and Player of the Year Award in 2011, and the Charles Schwab Cup last year, Lehman is now targeting another Senior Major to add to his glittering CV.
“Any Major is a big target,” he said. “I’ve also yet to win the US Senior Open, and the bigger the tournament you win, the happier you are. I can’t think of any better ones than the US Senior Open and the Senior Open.
“When you play courses like we play, that really helps attract top fields. When you get the chance to play a Turnberry, or a Carnoustie, or a Birkdale, those are the best of the best. It is great when you can play competitions there.
“Royal Birkdale is a great course, with amazing dunes. Every links course is a little bit different, and a little bit the same. This one has a bit more drama with all the stuff going on around the holes.
“You are playing into a lot of valleys and there are a couple of par threes where you are hitting into little nooks and crannies, which are very penal if you miss the shot. There are some great driving holes especially – the 16th and the 18th. I think it is a really good driving course.”
Australian Mike Harwood also returns to the north-west coast hoping to be inspired by his own fond memories of the area.
Harwood finished runner up to Ian-Baker Finch in The 1991 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, in the same year he won the last of his five European Tour titles in the European Open at Walton Heath.
“I’ve got good memories of Royal Birkdale and sad memories too,” he said. “At that time in my career I wasn’t really expecting to come second, I was playing that well.
“But, I’m now 54 and if someone said to me you’d finish second in The Open, I’d say that’s unbelievable. Back, then I was primed, I was ready for that. I played well and I didn’t do anything wrong to lose. We’ve seen some guys over the years lose an Open, but I didn’t. Ian Baker-Finch just won it with brilliant golf. The best player won, no questions about that, but it does have some sad memories to a certain degree.
Harwood’s best performance to date in The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex was at Walton Heath in 2011, when he shared 23rd position after being the joint first round leader.
Along with his close friend Peter Fowler, the 2011 European Senior Tour Order of Merit winner, Harwood heads to Royal Birkdale hoping to become only the second Australian after Ian Stanley in 2001 to win the Senior Open Championship.
“I think if I won the Senior Open I’d chuck the clubs in the creek and I’d never play again,” he said. “It’s something you aspire to. Going back to Birkdale has good memories for me, as was going back to Walton Heath a couple of years ago where I won the European Open and I played pretty good there for a couple of days.
“We played a terrific golf course last year at Turnberry and we are backing it up this year with Birkdale. Obviously we will have a great field again with some great champions playing there, so it will be fantastic.”
Golf fans hoping to see Lehman, Harwood and many more of the game’s all-time greats in 2013 can take advantage of a special advance ticket offer to reserve their place at The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, from July 25-28.
Season tickets bought before June 30 can now be purchased for just £70 – a significant saving of £10 on the gate price.
One day tickets purchased before June 30 cost £25, a saving of £5 on the gate price, while practice day tickets are also available at the reduced price of £12, a saving of £3 on the gate price. Under16s are admitted for free when accompanied by an adult and parking is also free.
Tickets can be bought online via www.senioropengolf.com or by calling +44 (0)800 0232557, with details of hospitality packages also available.
Royal Birkdale, which last hosted The Open Championship in 2008 when Padraig Harrington claimed his second consecutive Claret Jug, will become the 11th different course to host The Senior Open Championship. It will be only the second venue in the north west of England to host the Championship, following Royal Lytham & St Annes (1991-1994).