As I write, I sit in the sharp end of a Northwestern jet, headed for Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on the Sunday evening that saw Tom Lehman melt down at the Buick Open, leaving Tom Pernice with the trophy. I had the unenviable task of interviewing Lehman after his round, and as a former player, I knew how he felt. But as always, he was gracious and accommodating, due in no small part to the fact that he was surrounded by his beautiful wife and children.
In contrast to my awkward and fumbling questions, his answers were concise and forthright and as I headed for Detroit Metro Airport in my rental car, traveling way too quick in an effort to make a flight that would allow me to spend about 36 hours with my own beautiful wife and kids, I was struck by what I really should have asked him.
With a jet-set lifestyle and a social circle that includes captains of industry, rock stars, actors and politicians, Tom Lehman is an anachronism in the world of professional golf. Perhaps it has something to do with his Minnesota roots, or his quietly understated faith, but it seems to me that he is a modern day Byron Nelson, at least in his attitude towards the game, and his respect for those who play it. In a era where the game becomes increasingly popular to the MTV generation with its short attention span and penchant for one-day, made-for-TV events, he remains steadfastly behind, rooted in the Nicklaus-Palmer tradition that reeks of the fact that you can be square but still be way cool.
He wants to be on the Ryder Cup side; in fact, he’d pay to be on it. He is exactly the kind of man who should be on it. He also pulls no punches about how much he values the help he gets from his caddie, Andy Martinez. I’ve heard a lot recently from less enlightened players about it being possible to do just as well with a girlfriend or a buddy on the bag. That may be so, but here’s a cold, hard fact. No one, and I mean absolutely no one has ever had a great career with a buddy or a girlfriend packing their sack. No one. Period. Scott Hoch can call Greg Rita just a caddie, but Greg Rita can count up his wins from way back in the ’70s. Payne Stewart has relied on Hicksy for years, and Vijay Singh would surely miss Dave Renwick. Jeff Maggert will probably win a major, but I doubt it will be with his girlfriend toting.
Just as Jim Nantz threw it down to me on Sunday, Tom’s little son jumped into his arms, and the corners of his mouth turned upwards. I wish I’d had the foresight, as Tom ran his hand through his daughter’s hair, to ask him if he felt lucky. He had just screwed up horribly, and this might have seemed at first to be a strange question, but his wife Melissa and his kids were gazing at him with such obvious pride how could he have felt anything else?