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Lehman's faith in his picks

COLLINGWOOD – Monday was a difficult day for Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman.
He only slept two hours the night after the final round of the PGA Championship, tossing and turning as he considered and reconsidered his two captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup team that will tee it up at the K Club in Ireland next month. Then he had to call the two players he selected, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink, to tell them they’d made the team, followed by more calls to those who didn’t, including Ryder Cup regular Davis Love III. That was followed by a press conference announcing the squad, and a flight from Chicago to Collingwood, where he was scheduled to appear at the grand opening of his new golf course, The Raven at Lora Bay, which he co-designed with Canadian Tom McBroom.

By Monday afternoon, worn out and exhausted from the scrutiny and concerns he faced over the past week, Lehman, a man whose religious faith has a pervasive influence over his life, walked down into the lobby of his hotel with a copy of his daily devotional readings, hoping to catch some much needed downtime.

Lehman acknowledged his religious nature played a significant role in his decision to go with Verplank and Cink.

“It wasn’t like I was saying, ‘God, show me who to pick,’ ” he explained. “It was more about asking for the wisdom to know what I needed to know, how to deal with the guys and see the big picture.”

Yesterday, Lehman, who is thinner than he’s been in years, but also looking every bit of his 47 years, said the stress of the weeks leading up to the selection of his captain’s picks was unlike anything he’d experienced in his life. Heading into the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, Lehman still had six players from which to choose.

“When I woke up on Monday, I was 100% certain of my decision and where I needed to go,” he explained. “Today I’m relaxing, but my stomach is still turning.”

Calling a tour veteran like Love, and telling him he didn’t make the team was difficult, Lehman said. Love took it like the “southern gentleman that he is,” Lehman said, while newcomer Lucas Glover and Tim Herron, who hails from Lehman’s home state of Minnesota, were extremely disappointed by being left out. Glover met Lehman’s call with silence, stunned by the fact he hadn’t made the team. Leaving Herron off the team was a huge issue as well.

“I was pulling so hard for him. He’s a Minnesota kid. I know him and I know his family. I was pulling so hard for him to play well and move up the list. By not picking him, I knew his parents would be mad at me, and that he’s going to be mad at me. Even the town of Wayzata, Minn., will be mad at me. But I couldn’t justify picking him.”

Lehman is quite clear that he’s learned from past Ryder Cup failures. He also knows a lot of the team’s hopes of success rests with the world’s top two players, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Don’t expect to see a replay of Oakland Hills in 2004, where captain Hal Sutton paired Mickelson and Woods, only to see them lose twice. Lehman thinks he understands enough about psychology and personal chemistry to figure out why the pairing was so unsuccessful, saying Mickelson is a more “emotional” player than Woods, and interacts with his playing partner in a very different way.

“Tiger gives back, too, but in a way that is very different from Phil,” he said. “Jim Furyk is the kind of guy that appreciates Tiger’s approach. It is all about finding the players that gel together and create a team.”

For Lehman, the success of the team depends on “partnerships,” the buzz word he uses numerous times in our interview.

“Marriage is the ultimate example of a partnership and if you look at what makes a marriage work, it usually starts with trust,” he said. “Physically, the players don’t have to be alike, but they have to compliment each other. They have to be able to give in a way that the other player relates to.”

Matching up the right combination of players against a European squad that has won four out of the last five Ryder Cups is the task Lehman now faces. The former British Open winner is fully aware he’s opened himself up to criticism by choosing Verplank and Cink, two players that have mixed records in the event. But he’s sticking by his decisions, regardless of what the naysayers and pundits say.

“I’m totally fine with everything,” he said. “I feel totally fine about the players I picked and the guys on the team. I feel good about who they are. Now it is time to move forward.”

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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.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Lehman seems very media friendly… it’s good to hear. I don’t recall past captains taking or at least acknowledging such a psychological approach to the whole ordeal.

  • If Lehman learned anything from the recent Ryder Cup matches, he is better off worrying about how to get his top players bring their A games.

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