An Interview With: CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN
September 21, 2006
GORDON SIMPSON: We are joined by the sartorially elegant Tom Lehman. And Captain Tom Lehman, it's been nearly two years in the waiting for you in the planning. What's your final thoughts going into the 2006 Ryder Cup?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, I guess the thing I would say, it must be Thursday because this room is a lot more full.
No, I'm very excited. It's been a long time coming. I've been looking forward to this, these next few days, for quite some time; I'm sure both teams have. I'm sure Woosie has been anticipating this for a long time. I know I'm very proud of my team and I'm very proud of the things that we've done to prepare for this. I'm sure Woosie feels the same way.
It's just a great honour to be able to represent your country here in this golf tournament, and this great honour, I'm sure it's a source of pride for Woosie to be captain of their team and I certainly feel the same way. Now it's time to move forward and start playing and I'm excited about that.
GORDON SIMPSON: I think everyone else is excited seeing the top pairing tomorrow morning for the very first match.
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: No surprise there. Not surprised in the least to see who is playing that match. I think it will be a great match. I pretty much expected that and they probably expected who we have out, as well.
Q. Can you talk about the pairing of David Toms and Brett Wetterich?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Certainly. The golf course is playing very long, and with the wind blowing the way it's been, if it continues to be the way that it has been, length is a really big deal. I think it's a fantastic pairing. Brett is playing extremely well. He hits it a long way. He's very strong.
And he has a partner who is incredibly steady, someone he can really trust and count on, somebody who is able to calm somebody down. It will be Brett's first time around, and he needs to be with a partner who has a real calming influence on him, and that's what David Toms provides. He provides a great game and very much a calming influence.
Q. How much thought did you put into trying to figure out who they were going to play in each particular match and match up against that?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: You know, it's a big guess. It's a big guess.
I think you generally have an idea of what teams may do based upon history. I spent a lot of time over the last few months just looking over the results of the previous Ryder Cups going all the way back to the '70s, just to kind of see if there's a consistent pattern in the pairings. Is it, you know, the best team out first, the best team out first, do they put them in the middle, and I found that there is a pattern. There is a pattern; a lot of captains have done it very similar ways and a lot of captains have done it differently, and there seems to be a pattern.
I think it's no surprise to me to see Harrington and Montgomerie in that first group.
Q. Last week it was really surprising to see Tiger so rarely get wrong the pace of the greens as he did at Wentworth. Is he happier now with his putting and has he said anything to you about that, how he's feeling now?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, I would say this: If I had to put my wife and kids' life on the line with somebody making a putt, I would pick him.
Q. You've already said that you expected them to put Monty and Harrington out in the first group, which of course means you wanted those two pairs to meet up. What is the historical significance of that first meeting in view of this match, in view of avenging what happened in the last match, in view of the significance in the last match? There's a lot more invested than one point, isn't there?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think you can't make it personal. You can't make it a personal thing. I knew they would put a very strong team out and I know that Monty generally likes to go first. So I expected Monty to be in that first group with Padraig.
Of course, the first point is important, so I think you want to lead with your best.
Q. Sorry, maybe I expressed it badly. Is there a sense of history there that the significance of Monty and Harrington beating Tiger and Mickelson in the last match was so immense, they are such big favourites here now, is it equally immense for your guys to beat them here?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: The first point is a big point, absolutely. It will be it's not the end of the match. It's not like the first match, whoever wins the first match, the tournament's over. That's not it at all.
I think we put four teams out there that I have a lot of confidence in, and so match play is very much, in 18 holes is kind of a sprint. Anything can happen. I feel like we have four teams that are very, very strong, and if somebody falters, the other guys pick it up; that's the essence of a team. A team, you cover for each other.
Q. Do you invest any added significance in this match?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Any added? No. I see it as one point being played for between two teams.
Q. Are you surprised to see Clarke and Westwood playing together?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: No, not at all. Again, I think there's something that's very special about friendships, and I think especially this week, being out with a close friend is probably especially important for Darren. So I think, you know, I've been very moved by the reception that he has gotten. I knew he would be received so warmly, but it's been I'm not even sure what the right word is, but gratifying.
I think it's so emotional to see the way he's been embraced by everybody here, and I think that's wonderful. And I think for him to be out with Lee, being such good friends, is a very it's a very good pairing.
Q. You have so many rookies on your team, I think a lot of people expected that you, too, would play one of your wild cards. Were you tempted to do so and why didn't you do so?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I think in this format, I feel like the guys we picked probably bring more in terms of firepower than making birdies. Brett Wetterich is a guy who makes a lot of birdies. He is a complementary player to somebody like David Toms who plays steady and makes a lot of birdies.
To me the course and the conditions have an influence on the people you put on the golf course.
Q. Ian said everybody on the team would be getting a game before the singles. Will you be using the same policy?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Yes.
Q. Can we just confirm that those four pairs were the ones you said at the start of the week you knew you were going to play the first session; you didn't make any changes?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Mm hmm.
Q. And also, you said you were not surprised by Monty and Harrington in the first group. Did anything else in that European lineup surprise you?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: No, no. I think that's you know, there's a number of people that you could expect to play together. I mean, it's not just this group right here. As you look at their team, there's a number of players who I would expect to have the possibility of being paired with another guy.
So it's not like this guy is for sure going to play with that guy, but it's like this guy could play with him, him, or him, and I wouldn't be surprised to see any of those pairings. So as I look at this, there's really no big surprises.
Q. You've discussed with Woosie the possibility or likelihood of lift, clean and place with the golf ball. Have you discussed moving tees forward if you continue to have gales, particularly like holes on 17, or is that an issue for the captains?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: No. I think the tee may be moved forward on No. 7 if the wind gets up real high. Other than that, I think we ought to play the whole golf course.
Q. Just curious what you've seen out of J.J. this week amongst your other rookies?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I've seen a lot.
Q. Can you elaborate a little more eloquently? Of the four rookies you're going to play tomorrow, what stood out about him to send him off with Stewart?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: So the question was what about J.J. caused me to put him out tomorrow morning with Stewart?
Well, when we were here a month ago, they played together. It's one of those things when we came over, we were looking just to see what might work, what kind of connection might there be between different guys. They just hit it off immediately. So they played a lot of golf together those two days we were here previously, and they have played a lot of golf together over the past few days here now.
So he and Stewart, they just click. There's something about that twosome, that it works. But in terms of J.J. specifically, he's playing great. He's really driving it beautifully. He hits it real long and he's real strong. His trajectory is real flat. He lives in Texas and knows how to play in the wind.
Anyway, so his whole game is very much suited to playing in conditions that are somewhat like this.
Q. Do you think that a captain can make the difference between a victory and defeat, out do you think that's ultimately determined by the players? And secondly, are you today haunted by the fear that your decisions might mess up things for the team, as captains' decisions always can?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: We have a policy on our team that you say what you think. If you have something that you want to say, you say it, as long as it's what you truly feel. It not like I'm making the decisions in a void. There's input.
And so I think when you put these names down on paper, it's a decision that's been made based upon a lot of thought, and there's a consensus. I'm the one who makes the final decision obviously, and if I have a real strong feeling about something, I push my opinion pretty hard. But I am very confident that we're going the right direction.
Q. From a tactical standpoint since it sounds like you spent some time looking at this, can you tell me from that standpoint why you picked the way you picked in order, why you put DiMarco last instead of second, and why you put everybody in that particular realm? And secondly, could you answer if you had these decisions made with regard to pairings to all the way back when you were at The K Club last time?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Not all the pairings, no, just had an idea of the pairings.
In terms of why the order is the way it is, you know, I feel like it's the right way to do it. My assistants agree. Our team agrees.
Is there any logic to it? Well, of course there is. I think the first point is important. I think the last point is important. All of the point are important. Some guys like to go first, some guys like to go last. I think Mickelson and DiMarco going out last is a good place for them because I think they like that role.
Q. Do you have a sense of who you might be putting out tomorrow afternoon already, and does the colour of the board as it's getting close to noon make any difference as to whether you play any of your other rookies?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think how the teams do in the morning has an impact, success or not. You can be very successful and still lose the match. That's the one thing is you can go out and shoot 4 or 5 under par well, let me rephrase that. Scott Verplank told me at The Belfry one year that he and his partner shot 5 under, made six birdies and one bogey, and lost to a team had a made six birdies and no bogeys, and they shot 5 under and lost. Would you want to set them down because they didn't play well? No. They played great; they just didn't win. So I think it's important to look and see how guys are playing. And if they are playing well and know they are playing well and have confidence, it's sometimes tough to sit a team down.
Q. A part from the 16th, 17th, 18th, what do you think are going to be the key holes this week?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I think the start is very important. The first four, five holes are important. It seems like those holes can set the tone.
Q. You're starting half your rookies. You said weeks ago somebody had to be a rookie every time they play.
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: At some point, you're a rookie.
Q. At some point you're a rookie. What are you saying in terms of emotionally or faith in these guys; you're a rookie, but I want to put you out first, you're on the front line?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I think it's saying that I believe they can do it. That was the message that I got. When I was a rookie, I played the very first match and I hit the very first shot at Oak Hill. I was the first match up with Corey Pavin and I teed off on alternate shot on the first hole, and I was the first American to play that week.
The message I got from Lanny was, "I put you here because I know you can do it." And I think that's why you play the guys that you play.
And that's why I think it's important that I say it, that all of the guys are going to play, because I think they are all playing well and I know they all can do it.
Q. Looking at Oak Hill, which was your debut, Seve was in the prime at that stage and you're in transition. Looking at the current team, how significant a change do you see in the front of the team from that time in '95?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: The European Team, the differences between the team?
Q. Yeah, they were in transition at that stage. Seve was on the waywards of a decline. What is the main change that you see?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, The European Tour is incredibly strong. I think there's been a real growth of the game and a huge increase in the number of good players, especially young players.
So as I look at the list of their team and just The European Tour in general, there's so many good young players that are either playing in Europe or playing in the States, but they are playing somewhere and they are playing at a very high level. That's what I see. It's like a new generation. You have that long number of years with Seve and Faldo and Langer and Woosie and Sandy and all of the guys who played, that whole crew, Olazábal, and now there's a couple of transitional players. You have Olazábal here and Monty here and they are still young enough to be great players.
Then you have this transitional stage of guys like Paul Casey and Sergio and Stenson. I mean, there's just a whole next generation. I really kind of see that, this kind of group, carrying on much like that first group did.
Q. You've played under three previous U.S. captains and you've obviously given a great deal of thought to your own approach to the job. Could you speak about specifically what attributes of the captaincy you've taken from any or all of those captains?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I think everybody has things they can add, and I've gotten great advice from a lot of different people. They all seem to have something that they feel was most important. So every captain that I've talked to has kind of added something to it, something you can learn from, as well as, hey, this is what I did wrong. I mean, you're always going to make mistakes. No matter what you do, we're not I'm still, this is a first time experience for me, being a captain of any kind of team like this, so you're going to make mistakes. But you try to learn from other people, and they provided some real good insight.
Q. How much conversation was there with Tiger and Jim in terms of what order they would go out, and did they specifically express a preference to play first knowing that Monty and Padraig would likely be the first European team sent out?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Well, I think there wasn't a certainty that Monty and Padraig would be in that first group, but there was a likelihood. But more than that, it wasn't like we want you to go first because it's Harrington and Montgomerie. I said we want you to go first because I know they are going to put a very strong team first, so I want to meet strength for strength.
Q. You said you looked at history books in recent times. The results over the last ten years, did they affect your psyche or confidence, and have you a points tally in mind for tomorrow that would be acceptable?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: Yeah, I think we have a strategy. Our team has a strategy which we are hoping to achieve. We've set some goals. That's one of those things I'm not going to share here obviously. But we have discussed what our strategy for winning this match is. I think everybody on the team is very clear on what it is, and everybody is ready to do their part.
Q. Does that affect the confidence or psyche of the team going into this?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I have to say that if something like that affected us, well, I'll give you the short answer, no.
Q. Your team will have the honor tomorrow. Can you tell us who will hit the first shot?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I don't know. That's between Tiger and Jim.
Q. Can you tell us how and when you announced the pairings to the players, and what did you tell your four guys who are sitting?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I'm sorry?
Q. Can you tell us how and when you announced the pairings to your players, and what did you tell the four players who are going to sit in the morning?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: We had a big meeting last night and we talked a lot about playing and sitting, so everybody knows exactly what that means. I think the message that the players and caddies needed to hear is that because you're sitting is not a lack of confidence in you as a player or you as a caddie. Simply it is this is what we are going to do this first match and then we go from there. So there's no one thing I would say is that everybody understands that this is a team game. This is a team game, and whether you're sitting or you're playing, you're adding significantly to the success of the team by what you do. So you need to be ready and be prepared until it's your turn to play, and we talked until everybody was clear and everybody was on board for that.
Q. Considering the history of these matches, how ominous is a pairing of two Spaniards of their caliber tomorrow?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: The Spaniards are generally pretty tough to beat, and I'm sure this one will be the same way.
Q. I may be totally wrong with this, but I gather this tradition of the photo session you had this morning, the team that doesn't hold the trophy is still to be given the trophy for the photos; is that right?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: I wasn't aware of that. I have no idea what the to protocol is or isn't, so I can't even respond to that.
Q. You mentioned just then that everybody understands it's a team game. Much is made of the European spirit, and there's a suggestion that the American team has lacked that spirit in the team field before. Is that a fair criticism previously?
CAPTAIN TOM LEHMAN: You know, I've been on three teams and I always felt like our team was very motivated and very together.
So I guess I would probably say that I would disagree with that.
GORDON SIMPSON: Before you leave your seats, please, can I just say that John Hopkins is going to make a very important presentation. Tom, thank you very much for your attendance today. Good luck this week.
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