2014 U.S. Senior Open

Wednesday, July 9

Press Conference

Tom Lehman


An Interview with
TOM LEHMAN

MIKE TROSTEL: Ladies and gentlemen, our last press conference today in the Media Center. Like to welcome Tom Lehman to the 35th U.S. Senior Open Championship at Oak Tree National. Tom is playing in his 6th U.S. Senior Open. Been in the Top 25 each time including a runner-up finish back in 2012 at Indianwood. Also had five Top-10s in the U.S. Open, including four Top-5s in a row from 1995 to '98. What can you take away from your success at the U.S. Open and continuing to play in the U.S. Senior Open, Oak Tree National Championship?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think the courses are very -- set-up very much the same way in that par is oftentimes a good score. Occasionally maybe things are, conditions are such that you get more aggressive but, for the most part, putting the ball in the fairway and putting it on the green and being happy with par works very well in U.S. Opens.

MIKE TROSTEL: And you've been playing well in the last few weeks. You had a win at the Encompass Championship just a few weeks ago, 6, Top-10s in 2014. Just talk a little bit about your great play down the stretch there, what I remember you had birdies I think three of the last four holes including a 12-footer on the final hole. Does that give you some confidence coming into this week?

TOM LEHMAN: My game is improving bit by bit this week. Started out slowly and to the point right now where it does feel pretty good. With my game, it's kind of typically been the same thing over the years. If I putt well I do well. If I don't putt well, I don't. So I've been working very hard on that. I feel pretty good with the putter in my hands. This is the kind of course though where you have to get there first. You've got to put the ball in the fairway here in order to hit greens and if you miss fairways, you're going to miss greens and it's going to be a real struggle. I think this is a ball striker's paradise out here. For the guy who drives it great and controls his golf ball, he's going to have a good chance to win.

MIKE TROSTEL: Not to look ahead too far but next week the Major League Baseball All Star Game is in Minnesota. Are you looking forward to that? You're a Minnesota guy. Any plans to go to the game?

TOM LEHMAN: I am a Minnesotan. We live in Arizona now. I don't like baseball enough to go up for an All Star Game. I'll be more interested in watching the British Open than in baseball.

MIKE TROSTEL: Very good. We'll open it up for questions.

Q. What's clicked a little bit lately with your game, Tom? You said you felt like you've been playing a little better.
TOM LEHMAN: You know, putting. It's all been about putting with me and not so much that I'm not making some birdies because I've been making plenty of birdies. It's about saving par more than anything. It's always been my opinion that the secret to championship golf is not making bogies. Everybody is good enough to make birdies but the best guys make fewer bogies and the guys who win make very little. So, you know, I've been doing a terrible job all year of saving par, missing a lot of 8-footers and 7-footers and the putts you need to make and I think if I could say anything about the weeks that I've played well is I've made more par-saving putts and therefore fewer bogies.

Q. This is one of two U.S. Opens. This is a National Championship for the guys over 50. I'm wondering if you could just talk about the importance of it because it relates back to the U.S. Open, it's similar in its set-up and so forth and just how I guess special it is to compete in this tournament?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, personally I just feel so fortunate that we can still play at this stage of the game and play at an event like this. But, all through the years I think it's really true that even starting as a junior golfer, the USGA, the U.S. Junior was always the biggest event, the one you wanted to win the most and move up into amateur golf and U.S. Amateur, move up to into professional golf and it's the U.S. Open and now the U.S. Senior Open. There's just -- ever since you're 12 years old, the USGA has kind of been the pinnacle of what you're trying to win as an American. The U.S. Open, I think it would be, you know, fair to say I wouldn't take any Major, you know, whether it be the Senior British Open or the Senior PGA or whatever, they're all great events. Through the years, at least for me, you know, the USGA events have always been the ones I wanted to win the most. So far I'm O-for-the-world. I'd like to maybe change that.

Q. Everybody has been asking about how Bernhard seems to be getting better. I mean a lot of players, the aging process helps with your knowledge of the game but some of your skills go. They say he keeps getting better. Why has he been so good the last few years in your opinion?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, he works awfully hard and he works very smart. You know, I've observed his efforts to gain length. He's driving it longer than he has probably ever and he's driving it longer this year than he was a couple years ago. So, I think more than anything he's totally committed to what he's doing and so he's willing to do whatever it takes to stay at this level, whether it be testing equipment, staying in good shape. All those things, he's doing it so the commitment that I see him making I think has always been what's kept him on top of the game no matter what age level he's been at. So, you know, to me that's what I take away from being around Bernhard is just his commitment to being the best he can be.

Q. Tom, can you talk a little bit about Oak Tree in particular and what it presents as a championship test, what the key factors are here? Obviously fairways are paramount out there.
TOM LEHMAN: Well, you know, if you think about Pete Dye and his -- you try to crawl inside his head a little bit, which is tough to do, but you learn quickly, you know, what makes this course so difficult and what makes any Dye course difficult. Really, in my opinion, I could be wrong, is that it -- he makes it really tough to put the ball in position. He creates angles that you have to tackle and hazards you have to challenge and so you're always a little bit off balance. It's always a little bit awkward, you know, and then what he does best of all is when you do get out of position and try to recover too aggressively you go from bad to worse. Pretty soon you're in a big, big house of pain. It's not unlike playing TPC Sawgrass. When you get out of position, you got to take your lumps, get back in position and then play on. You do not benefit trying to be a hero on this golf course. So, I think this is very much the same way. You've got to drive it in the fairway. If you don't, you got to put it somewhere where you can swing at it again and just minimize the damage. Everybody is going to do that once in awhile, maybe more often. If you can avoid big numbers and find a way to have a chance to make par, you know, I think you're going to be ahead of the game.

Q. Tom, is there any kind of art or science to controlling the ball out of the bermuda rough?
TOM LEHMAN: Boy, art -- the black arts maybe can help you. I don't know. Harry Potter possibly could help you. It's difficult. You very rarely get a lie where you can get the right kind of flight on it, and the ball is tumbling all the time. What makes the course difficult is there's so much elevation leading up into the greens, there's -- they're so elevated and so much slope it's difficult to roll the ball up. If you land it on the green usually you're going to be long. That's why I say, the art out here I think is to -- who can be the smartest and the most patient, you know, and understand what's going to give me the best chance to make a par when I do get out of position. Is it going to be to try to bounce it up or is it going to be to lay it up and hit a full wedge in? Is there a bunker that I can reach that maybe will be satisfactory or what, you know. Making those decisions I think is everything.

Q. Along the lines of keeping patient, it's going to be pushing 100 most of the week. I know you guys are in shape but will that play a role?
TOM LEHMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. The heat makes it more difficult. It's tough enough when you're 25 or 30. It's even more difficult when you're in your 50s. You know, that's part of the reason, for example, why I planned my week the way I did. I came here a week ago, spent a whole day here, got up early, came out early, spent until about 4, 5:00 in the afternoon, spent the entire day on the golf course so I wouldn't have to come here and spend three days of practice rounds in the heat, you know, so we got here yesterday and practiced in the afternoon again and now, today, just it's all about conserving energy. You know, my opinion, again, at this stage of the game, this level, most guys' swings aren't going to go south on them, it's more about mental fatigue and physical fatigue. And if you can keep yourself fresh you're going to have a better chance.

Q. Tom, there are almost 60 players in this field that are playing in their First Senior Open. When you step to the tee and they step to the first tee, what do you know about playing in this championship that they're not going to know?
TOM LEHMAN: That's a really good question. I'm not sure -- trying to go back to playing in my first Open, it was pretty intimidating. I think it's easy to be impatient. I think it's easy to feel like if things aren't going well to start, for example, that you're losing it, you know, and -- when the fact of the matter is everybody is going to have a bunch of mistakes. Everybody is going to have some stretches where they really struggle. I think that may be more than anything, you know, what a first time person needs to understand is not to get too overwhelmed by anything bad that happens. You know, if you have a big number or a stretch of bad holes, everybody is going to have it and move on. It's easy to -- again, it's kind of easy to go from bad to worse but it makes -- easier to not do that if you understand that everybody is probably going to have that happen to them as well. Just being patient, I think that's the big thing, not worrying about a bad start or a bad hole.

Q. At this stage in your career, what keeps you motivated and do you have any personal goals for the remainder of your career?
TOM LEHMAN: You know, we were just talking about that today with the group I was practicing with. I think there's a lot of guys who are very motivated and I think the motivation has always been the same. I think simply that guys like to compete and they have a hard time accepting less than their best and I know that's the case with me. Whenever I kind of start feeling any kind of letdown of any kind and start playing a little bit, you know, more poorly, that really irritates me so much and it gets me back to working hard. I hate to play badly. I hate to, you know, miss putts. I hate to hit bad shots. I hate to compete and not be able to perform my best and so that's the motivation for me, you know, and as long as I'm going to play, I'm going to want to work hard so that I can do my best. At the point where you don't care if you do your best or not, that's the point where you got to quit.

Q. Tom, I may be a bit off topic but Bernhard was in here earlier. He said something kind of profound. actually it was profound about sports psychology and what 99 percent of what sports psychologists actually have to say you pretty much find in the Bible. I'm just wondering, you've been through that book probably a few times.
TOM LEHMAN: A few times, yeah.

Q. Do you know where he's coming from on that and, you know, if you do, and I'm assuming you do, have there been times when things that you have read in the Bible have kind of, I guess, calmed you down in a round of golf or gotten you through a little tough stretch where maybe you were frustrated or felt you weren't as patient as you could be and it helped you become more patient?
TOM LEHMAN: Well, you know, I actually agree with him. My -- I've never had a sports psychologist. That's the exact reason why. My wife and I have discussed it before and it's like well, you have the greatest road map right here, this book called the Bible. So, why do you need somebody else to tell me what we already should know? I think in answer to your question is that people who have a spiritual faith tend have to have a perspective that maybe allows you to not put such a strong emphasis on winning and losing. So, you know, you kind of -- at the end of the day there's more important things in the world than just this golf tournament. What it does, the thing -- if you looked at Kevin Streelman and listened to what he had to say after he won a few weeks ago, you're able to give your very best, you're able to work really hard because you want to win but you're very, very also able to accept the results. So that kind takes a little bit of the pressure off of having to always succeed and having to always be successful, having to feel like your identity is all wrapped up in whether you win or you lose. So, I think that's really the issue. I think sports psychology is trying to find a place where people can be in a safe spot to compete and give their very best, to be able to allow themselves to let their best shine through. Typically that always happens when you're in the safe place where it's okay to fail. So, if it's okay to fail, you know, then you're not afraid of failure, you're not afraid of success. You simply go play the game and, you know, I think -- if you ask me about my faith, I think that's what it does for me is no guarantees of winning or losing but is a guarantee of having a peace and a perspective that allows me to enjoy the game.

MIKE TROSTEL: Any other questions for Tom? 8:07 off the 10th tee on Thursday
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