PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Tom Lehman admitted he rushed himself after knee surgery in 2000 to compete in the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. He withdrew after a first-round 82, and believed that there would be better days ahead, possibly at Valhalla.
Next month, Lehman returns to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., as one of the Champion Tour's hottest players and defending Champion in the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. He heads a list of 25 major champions who own a combined 43 titles in the 156-player field competing May 24-29. Lehman received a preview of the course, April 19, as featured guest at the annual Senior PGA Championship Media Day.
It will be the 52-year-old Lehman's third appearance in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf, having captured the 2010 Championship in a playoff over Fred Couples and David Frost, also among the entrants. The Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid makes its second-ever visit to Valhalla Golf Club, and first since 2004 on the 7,297-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
"We got a good look at the course and I haven't played it since 2000, and even that year it was shortened (7,167 yards)," said Lehman. "I had just come off knee surgery so I had two weeks of rehab after surgery and tried to play and didn't do it very well and made it one round and had to withdraw. I'm sure I made that first alternate really unhappy."
The 1996 Open Champion and captain of the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup Team, Lehman, with two Champions Tour victories in four starts this season, reports in good physical shape for another major test.
"I've been really happy with my game for the last three years," said Lehman. "When I think of the number of tournaments that I've played and the number of tournaments where I've played well over about the last three to 3½ years, it's really gratifying because I've played well in 95 percent of them."
Lehman is one of 11 Senior PGA Champions among the entrants, and is joined by Michael Allen (2009); Jay Haas (2006, '08); Hale Irwin (1996, '97, '98, 2004); John Jacobs (2003); Mike Reid (2005); Doug Tewell (2000), Tom Wargo (1993), Denis Watson (2007); Tom Watson (2001) and Fuzzy Zoeller (2002).
Competing on a Nicklaus-designed course commands Lehman's respect, he said, "because they require a really good game plan." Lehman tied for 14th in his debut at Valhalla in the 1996 PGA Championship, which was his second-best showing in the season's final major. Each time he has competed on the course, one constant has remained.
"You have to have good strategy because there are a lot of places that you cannot recover from if you hit it there," said Lehman. "It's a difficult place to recover from, period, around some of these greens. So, you have to have a real good game plan. And, then once you get that going you have to hit it solid. I think it's a shotmaker's golf course. I thought it was back then and I think it is even more so now."
Competing on the Champions Tour has been an extension of a career, Lehman said, and has resulted in many positive stories for its players off the course.
"I do think this about the Champions Tour, senior golf, that a lot of guys feel like they have been given a second lease on life," said Lehman. "They have been able to continue competing and playing and at a time when most folks have had to quit long ago. And I think that is one reason why so many guys feel the real responsibility to be good citizens, to give back, to be involved with their communities, and to serve."
Lehman also said that his third season on the Champions Tour has not allowed him to relax among his contemporaries.
"You have to be on your toes and you have to be firing on all cylinders or else you're not going to win," he said. "There's just not 156 great players like there is on the PGA Tour. There's a whole bunch of good players and there's been a bunch of great players."
The Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid brings together the strongest field in senior golf. Begun in 1937, the Championship attracts the legends of the game and the newest members of senior professional golf to new audiences throughout the United States.
For nearly 25 years, Valhalla Golf Club has hosted premier events - from the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships, the 2002 PGA Professional National Championship and 2004 Senior PGA Championship, to the 2008 Ryder Cup.
Any Day and Weeklong ticket packages may be purchased by visiting 2011SeniorPGA.com, or by calling the PGA Ticketing Center at (800) PGA-GOLF (742-4653). A limited number of hospitality packages are still available. Contact Matt Dumeyer at MDumeyer@pgahq.com or call (502) 245-2000.
Since the introduction of its legendary stand mixer in 1919 and first dishwasher in 1949, KitchenAid has built on the legacy of these icons to create a complete line of products designed for cooks. Over 90 years later, the KitchenAid brand now offers virtually every essential for the well-equipped kitchen with a collection that includes everything from countertop appliances to cookware, ranges to refrigerators, and whisks to wine cellars. To learn why chefs choose KitchenAid for their homes more than any other brand visit KitchenAid.com.
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