No one affiliated with the Americans' bid to end a Ryder Cup slump knows more about the 2016 host state than Tom Lehman.
One of four vice captains for the U.S. squad, which has lost the past three Ryder Cups, Lehman has added an unofficial title: team concierge.
Lehman, an Alexandria High School grad and former Gopher, is helping the team with everything from restaurant recommendations to understanding the constant changes of weather in Minnesota.
As the world's top players have descended on Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska for practice rounds leading to the Ryder Cup, Lehman has begun sharing with them stories of his early playing days in Minnesota.
"Growing up playing high school golf in the spring was pretty brutal stuff," Lehman said Tuesday at Target Field, where he was on hand to throw out the first pitch before the Twins game. "I remember one kid breaking his hand and not realizing it until the bus ride home and it was all swollen. He hit a root, but it was so cold and his hands were numb that he didn't know it."
For Lehman, early golf days in a state with limited months for the sport meant adjusting his game. It paid off in the form of five PGA Tour victories, including the 1996 British Open.
"I think the reason I play the way I do is a direct reflection of (growing up here)," Lehman said. "I've always been a big drawer of the golf ball. Hit it low, hit it hard and make it hook. That's completely a result of playing in windy, difficult conditions."
Lehman has spent recent days around the U.S. team, which includes Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson, and come away with the bold assertion that this may be the best prepared team he has been around.
"I really feel good about this team -- very, very confident in the abilities all the guys have," Lehman said. "And as a team, how they've come together so completely. I've never experienced a Ryder Cup where there's been a team goal mind-set where the whole team has bought into this mind-set of, 'Hey we don't care about finishing second. We're going to go win this.'
"It's not so much about making the team or performing well. It's about this team going out and winning. It's a different collective mind-set than I've ever been a part of on a Ryder Cup team. So to have it here in Minnesota and have these guys with that type of goal-oriented mentality, it'd be nice to bring to folks here a victory."
As vice captain, Lehman has worked with captain Davis Love III to determine how to set up Hazeltine. Part of his role, he said, is to be brutally honest.
"I think the role as vice captain has become much more significant as a result of the committee we formed a year ago to try to find out why we're losing so often," Lehman said. "It was universally agreed upon that we need to surround the captain each year with other people who have been around the Ryder Cup a lot. Former captains, future captains, people who have played before. That's the way the Europeans do it. The U.S. captain over the years (used to) invite three of his best buddies to help him and probably lost out on some really good advice."
This is the first time the Ryder Cup will take place in Minnesota, something Lehman said he's proud of.
"The Ryder Cup is the biggest golfing event," he said. "Majors are just as significant, but in terms of scope and bigness and pressure, electricity, and nationalistic pride, the Ryder Cup is far and away the biggest golfing event on the planet. To be able to be a part of it here in Minnesota is a dream come true for me."
This article was written by Chad Graff from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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