Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image U.S. captain Tom Lehman knows the Ryder Cup is just around the corner. (Photo: Getty Images)

New Ryder Cup faces have Lehman optimistic

At a press conference during the Barclays Classic in Westchester, N.Y., on Wednesday, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman said that while players like Brett Wetterich, Vaughn Taylor and Zach Johnson -- who all recently cracked the top 10 in the Ryder Cup Points Standings -- may be fresh faces, they've been playing great golf for some time now.

June 06, 2006

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Tom Lehman, thank you for joining us here today at the Barclays Classic. Rainy day outside but a lot of activity in here. Start with some comments about your season so far and then we'll go into the Ryder Cup and how preparations are going for that.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, the season is getting busier by the day, which is understandable. My game has kind of taken a back seat it seems. Earlier in the season it was a little bit easier to be more focused on my own game, but it's getting more difficult as time goes by. I'm working hard and hopefully I'll play well. I've got a great week this week and next week, but the exciting stuff is kind of right here in front of me.

Q. With a very good field this week, double points next week, do you expect kind of resettling in the 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 region of your points list, and is there anybody in particular that you're looking for a big high pressure performance from either here or next week?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, there are a lot of new faces. I would say new to the Ryder Cup, new faces in our point system. I think this is a reflection of what the point system was set to do, which is to reflect who's playing the best golf this year. The guys who are on there have really been playing a bunch of great golf this year. I'm very impressed with nearly everyone.

I'm sure if you were to talk to individual players, those guys all realize that the next two months, two and a half months, is a huge stretch not only for them personally with major championships and things they want to achieve, but also in terms of accumulating Ryder Cup points. So someone like Chris DiMarco, who's been injured since really early March, kind of finally just getting back on track, I'm sure he's expecting a lot for himself. Guys like him I'm sure are excited about the next two and a half months.

Q. Davis Love has talked quite openly about how the prospect of trying to make this team is really important to him, that it's almost had an adverse effect on him because he's put so much pressure on myself. Is there something you could say to him to alleviate his fears?

TOM LEHMAN: That would be a personal conversation. But everybody you just back up to what's wrong with the American teams. Part of it is that the guys not only care a great deal, they almost care too much, and they want to be a part of it so badly that you can definitely try too hard. You can definitely try too hard. My message to everybody is set your goals high and go after them, and if you make the team it's a big deal, which is what it should be, then you do whatever it takes. But you can definitely try too hard. Once you've been there a few times you know what it's all about and you know what you'd be missing if you weren't there. Especially this one in Ireland will be something extra special. Davis is a great player, and I have complete confidence in him and his game, and he'll be fine.

Q. How much encouragement and how many ideas did you take away from The Presidents Cup last year?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I learned a lot, definitely learned a lot by going there and being present and watching. Some of the teams they put together were very helpful, but observing the way the guys competed was extremely helpful. It was a very relaxed but focused and competitive team. You could tell that they were playing to win and not trying to avoid losing. They had a great competitive attitude, and I think I learned a lot from watching that.

I didn't see the anxiety and stress level there that you kind of see at the Ryder Cup.

Q. How do you duplicate that, replicate it when you go to Ireland. The pressure has been mounting on the U.S. side the last couple times out.

TOM LEHMAN: I think a big part is communication, communicating amongst each other, me to them, them to me. Any time you have situations, whether it's golf or life, you're always better off talking about it. You're always better off communicating about it. As a team we kind of I think assume everybody being professionals they can deal with the pressure and you don't need to discuss like that. Quite frankly, collectively as a team we've had some issues, and not being as successful, it's probably time to talk about it as a team. I think that will definitely help take the pressure off.

I have some ideas, and I know that we've already been discussing amongst ourselves a lot of the things I think are important and we'll continue to do that.

Q. I'm curious if the volatility of the standings, has it made your job harder in that there's a lot of guys to look at, or is it difficult to look at the team in terms of 12 guys when one week you've got a guy that could be 7, next week he falls to 18, or does it give you more guys to look at and does that help you perhaps?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, the volatility comes with the huge number for guys who are winning. You win a tournament, it's a huge number, so you can jump way up in a hurry. But what you see is still, even though the points system is different and there's more points, the guys who play well for one week do make a jump but then they definitely start backing up again. The guys who are consistently playing well week after week after week are the ones that are near the top. If you go right down that list, that's exactly what you're going to say. Brett Wetterich is No. 7, he's been playing as good as anybody for the last three months. Vaughn Taylor has been playing great all year, Lucas Glover has been playing well for a year and a half, Zach Johnson, same way. None of these guys up there, kind of new faces, but none of them surprise me.

Q. What are your thoughts when you look at the present makeup of the European side?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, always good. They've got a very strong team. You look at the names that are qualified, plus add two more picks, it's quite a strong team. They're always strong.

Q. Are you surprised to this day that there's no Irish qualified at this stage?

TOM LEHMAN: Quite frankly, there's different issues with different people, and it's very difficult for Darren right now to be concentrating on golf. I'm sure Padraig is trying really hard to make the team.

Q. Expect him to qualify, would you?

TOM LEHMAN: He's going to be there whether he qualifies or not. You can't not pick him if he doesn't make the Top 5 either way. But the way it currently sits right now, Westwood is not in, McGinley I guess is in there one way, but you have Darren, Padraig. If it continues that way, somebody gets left out, and that will be a tough call to make.

I'm sure that the guys from Ireland are trying so hard to be a part of this that it's almost, as Davis was saying, makes it somewhat difficult at times.

Q. At the beginning of the year we talked about how you had an opportunity to maybe make your own team and how that would go, but now you've talked about the fact that this has kind of overcome you and your game. Did you assume that would occur because a lot of times people say it's not that hard being a Ryder Cup captain, you just have to do this or do that. Obviously you've run into a lot more to do in this period of time.

TOM LEHMAN: Well, a lot of it is just in your brain type stuff, things you need to think through. You have an idea or you get a phone call, need to make a decision on X, Y or Z. You need to be thinking through things. What I've found simply is a lot of the mental preparation, there's time for that, preparing mentally to play my own game is taken up with a lot of other things, most of it Ryder Cup. Mentally I'm not as prepared. Physically it's not that big a deal.

If I was preparing for a U.S. Open, I would be so focused, I'd think of the U.S. Open for weeks and weeks ahead of time, and that's simply not possible. Obviously the mental game of golf is everything, so I feel somewhat unprepared most weeks now. Physically I'm swinging pretty well.

Q. Growing up were you ever captain of a high school team or a college team?

TOM LEHMAN: Oh, yeah, I was.

Q. Can you relate the job of being a captain?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, relate, no. Being captain, yes. I was captain of our basketball team, captain of our college golf team. That's a far different animal.

I guess I've learned a lot about myself over the last year and a half, and one thing I have learned is I feel like my instincts are pretty good. When it comes to having a gut feeling about things and what is the right thing to do and what is maybe not the right thing to do, I feel good about my instinct. So I'm learning to trust those more and more.

Q. Did you ever coach?

TOM LEHMAN: No, never coached.

Q. Will you go to the K Club before the Ryder Cup, to the course, or play the course?

TOM LEHMAN: Some of our guys have played there a lot. Tiger, for example, has played there many, many, many rounds. Some of the guys haven't been there at all. There will be some players that go there before the British Open, and I'm sure there will be a group that will go over when the team is announced. Some way or another, I'm sure that every one of our team members will be able to see the golf course before the tournament.

Q. A non Ryder Cup question. Obviously you've been out here for a long time and you've known Rocco Mediate for the years. Can you talk about the empathy for a player has for another player that's battled back problems, shot out of contending at The Masters on the back nine and threw out his back, and he's trying to come back again, pulled out of Memorial last week? What kind of empathy do you have for a 40-something still trying to be competitive out here?

TOM LEHMAN: Boy, that's tough. I guess as you get older, you realize your opportunities get smaller, and you want to be able to take advantage of them. When you feel like the most frustrating thing is when you know you've put the work in. You've put in what is required of you and then some to get in shape, to lose weight, to strengthen your back or whatever it might be, and you do it all and you're dedicated, you're committed, and then you can't play, that's really hard to handle. You want to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, and so we see someone like Rocco who can't do that, I mean, I know how frustrating it is. You feel bad for him, definitely.

Q. What have you delegated to your assistant captains? Are they in charge of anything in particular?

TOM LEHMAN: I can't really think of anything specific, but I do lean on them definitely for opinions. I think that's really the greatest thing they can offer me is another opinion. Both Loren and Corey, being the kind of players and people they are, they have great ideas, and they have a great competitive attitude. So the things that I say what do you think about this or what do you think about that, I have ideas all the time and I'll bounce it off of them and kind of get their feedback, and if they're both, like, that's a great idea, I'll be like, well, that's great to hear. Or they'll say I'm not sure I like that because...

The idea of bouncing off ideas and discussing things with them, this is what I think we need to do, discussing some of the problems, and then getting their feedback is really important to me.

Q. In times that you've played in these competitions, have you gleaned things from previous captains, good and bad, dos and don'ts in your mind, and not to indict anybody on the don'ts, but could you throw a couple of dos that maybe you've pulled from particular guys, whether it be what Ben did in 1999?

TOM LEHMAN: One thing I would say about all the captains, every one of them, Hal Sutton last, before him Curtis and before Ben, all the way back, is they put their heart and their soul into it. They give it all they have. I think they're to be extremely admired for doing that. The captains can get abused for things they might say or do and maybe get too much credit if the team does well. But the bottom line is they all care a lot and they all pour their heart and soul into it and they deserve respect. The things that they do well, yes, I definitely see different guys doing different things well. Some things that I wouldn't do, of course.

Every player is different, that's the whole issue there. What I may like may not be what Phil Mickelson would like, and what Phil would like maybe isn't what David Toms would like. So I think the real secret is to figure out individually what guys like, what is it that makes them tick, how do you bring out their best qualities, and then treat them all in that way. You can't probably talk to David Toms like you would to Jim Furyk. In some ways they relate differently.

There's been a couple of captains who are really good at that.

Q. How different will a 2006 major at Winged Foot than a 1997 major at Winged Foot?

TOM LEHMAN: All I've heard are horror stories about how tough the course is right now, how high the rough is. I haven't played it yet. It sounds to me like a reincarnation of 1974. That's kind of the buildup beforehand. Whether it is that way or not, I don't know, but it's a U.S. Open, it's a great course, it'll be a fantastic championship, and I can promise you it's going to bring out the best players.

Q. Are equipment differences in the last nine years going to make a darn bit of difference, clubs, ball?

TOM LEHMAN: Well, length always makes a difference, especially with some of the issues with the golf ball, it does go further, but it doesn't spin quite as much, either. So if you're hitting -- if I hit a Tour balata 10 years ago with a 5 iron versus a ball today with a 5 iron, that balata was spinning more. If I'm hitting the same clubs, that's great, but my ball is not spinning as much today and it makes it harder to control. To me that's always the issue with the added length is that the the whole spin issue.

Q. The other thing about the balls not spinning as much is it's more difficult to work it in either direction. I'm sure you had to make that adjustment to the new technology. How difficult was that?

TOM LEHMAN: I'm still making it. My eye always wants to see the ball draw. That's my shot, right to left. So the starting spot is almost the same today as it was 15 or 20 years ago; it starts to the right. But now it doesn't hook. It starts to the right and stays there. I started aiming at the pin. I used to always aim it 20, 25 feet right and it would spin towards the hole. I never had to aim at a pin to get it close. Now I've got to aim at the pin. For me personally it's brought going left into the game. I never used to miss it left, and now because I have to aim straight at it, I miss it left more than I used to.

Q. Part of that is Winged Foot obviously has a lot of doglegs and that would seem to be an asset, as here, as well. Is that the case, where these two golf courses are courses where movement in either direction is much more of an asset?

TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, because most modern courses when guys have to work it one way or another, they don't work it, just hit over the top of the corner, and if they couldn't go over the corner then they hit it around it, go right and left or short and right. So the art of curve it around is lost. If you go to Winged Foot, I remember the 8th hole, always having to hit a big cut off that tee. That's a tougher shot to hit today. You'll probably find out who the guys are that can really control their somebody.

Q. Have you written your speech yet?

TOM LEHMAN: What speech?

Q. Ryder Cup speech.

TOM LEHMAN: No, I have not.

Q. Have you taken any lessons in relation to that?

TOM LEHMAN: You know, I feel pretty confident giving speeches. I know there's going to be a big crowd and there will be some dignitaries there. But I feel quite comfortable in front of people with a microphone.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Tom Lehman, thank you.

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