Time for Lehman to come out swinging

U.S. team needs Lehman swinging
Robert Thompson on Golf
Critics and pundits be damned — Tom Lehman should play in the Ryder Cup when the event is held next month at the K Club in Ireland. Sure, there are plenty who have said he’d be crazy to captain the U.S. squad and attempt to tee it up. Even Lehman seems to be of that opinion these days.

“I decided a while back that unless there was some crazy, unforeseen circumstance, I would not play,” Lehman said earlier this week.

But looking at his options, Lehman should reconsider his decision. The U.S. team has not won since 1999, at Brookline, and this year’s current team, at least heading into today’s PGA Championship, leans heavily toward less-experienced players such as Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson.

So what are the obvious options? Most pundits seem to suggest Lehman’s choices are obvious: underachievers Davis Love III and Fred Couples. However, upon closer inspection, neither choice makes great sense.

Couples, who sits at 16th on the Ryder Cup points list, has a troublesome back and has played poorly for most of the year. If Lehman selects him there’s a chance he might not be able to play. And if he can play, what does he bring? A losing record in five Ryder Cups.

Similarly, Love, who has not played well in months, brings a 9-12-5 record to the event. Is that really the type of player Lehman wants? In comparison, Lehman has a 5-3-2 record and was a member of the last U.S. team to actually win. He sits 19th on the Ryder Cup points list and is having a good year, having nearly won the International last weekend and residing at the 27th spot on the PGA Tour money list.

Really, despite comments from past Ryder Cup captains like Dave Stockton that it would be too difficult to captain and play, one has to wonder exactly why this would be the case. All the captains appear to do is pick the players they will pair and then drive around cheering on their teams. They have assistant captains, so if Tiger’s shoulders need a massage between rounds and Elin isn’t available, I guess Corey Pavin could step in to fill the void.

In fact, Pavin might be a sensible person to turn to in filling the experience void. In many ways Pavin would make more sense than others ahead of him on the Ryder Cup points list. Certainly journeyman Jerry Kelly might offer Lehman an alternative, but is he truly the type of player that could inspire his team?

Pavin is only a few spots down the money list from Kelly and Lehman, and he won an event less than a month ago. The K Club, where the Ryder Cup is being held this year, isn’t a bomber’s paradise. It is a parkland course that makes shot placement extremely significant. Though he averages around 260 yards off the tee, no one works the ball better than Pavin. He could par his opponents to death and, in the appropriate pairing, he could play a pivotal role. Besides, he’s only a couple of spots on the money list behind a slumping Davis Love III, who Lehman has said will need a good tournament to make the team. What happens if Love continues to stumble and Pavin plays well?

“Our team has a huge amount of momentum going for it because our top players are so excited,” Lehman said earlier this week.

That remains to be seen.

Woods and Mickelson come to the event having played some of the best golf of their lives. But they are only two players, and both have had marginal success in the Ryder Cup in the past. Their failure to translate their obvious skills into points is one of the reasons the captain’s picks are so integral for the U.S. team.

Having had two fine seasons late in his career, Lehman comes to the Ryder Cup with grit, determination and experience. Only time will tell how he’s willing to put that package of skills into play.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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