Insider: Tom Lehman returns to scene of greatest triumph

Tom Lehman kisses the Claret Jug after winning the 1996 Open Championship.

Insider: Lehman returns to scene of greatest triumph

Tom Lehman's lone major championship win on the PGA Tour came at the 1996 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He returns there this week, this time with his family in tow.

By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

Another week, another major for Tom Lehman.

Well, maybe not just any major. Lehman is back at Royal Lytham and St. Annes for the British Open and that means a return to the site of his greatest triumph.

Lehman, after so many close calls in major championships, won the Claret Jug in 1996 on the northwest coast of England. The 2-stroke victory over Ernie Els and Mark McCumber came only a few weeks after Lehman failed to win the U.S. Open after holding the 54-hole lead.

At Royal Lytham 16 years ago, Lehman applied the lessons learned from previous disappointments to unlock the mystery that is winning a major.

"The thing that I probably learned the most was that I had the ability to handle pressure," said Lehman, who is in the middle of three straight weeks of major championship play. "I think I had the lead three times. I think I shot 71, 72 and 73 with the lead on Sunday. Watching the U.S. Open, how many guys do you see who have the lead and they shoot 78 or 80 or 76?

"You see it a lot. And so I proved to myself that I had the ability to deal with the pressure and that my game was good enough and that I was mentally strong enough."

Last week, Lehman played in the U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club, in suburban Detroit. This week's return to Royal Lytham is a family affair. And next week he'll tee it up in the Senior British at Turnberry.

"I'm taking my wife and my kids this year," Lehman said. "They've never been (to Royal Lytham) before. I've already made reservations at the Italian restaurant we went to about every night back in '96. They remember me and I remember them. So we're looking forward to that.

"I've always believed that there's no magic about going to a place that you won before. It was a great year in '96. I missed the cut in 2001. So I like the golf course, but you have to play the game, you have to hit the shots."

Lehman is in excellent form as he heads abroad. He has five top 4 finishes in his last six starts. The stretch includes a victory in a Champions Tour major at the Regions Tradition and successive runner-up finishes in the most recent majors, at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS and the U.S. Senior Open. He is atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings, a title he is trying to win for the second straight year.

At the 1996 British Open, Lehman's spectacular third-round 64 put him in control and a final-round 73 was enough to get the job done. Just a few weeks earlier, he was in position to win the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club and closed with 71 - solid but not quite good enough - and lost by a shot to Steve Jones. The subject of the 1996 U.S. Open came up quite naturally because Oakland Hills - like Indianwood - is in Oakland County. The two courses are about 20 miles apart.

"There were some close calls," Lehman said. "The U.S. Open at Oakland Hills is one where I didn't win, but I played so well, and the same thing at Congressional (1997). So there's always that side that you go 'what if' and 'I wish I could have.' That's ignoring the fact that I don't think I could have played better than I played at Oakland Hills - things just didn't go my way.

"There were a few things that happened during the course of my round on Sunday where I hit great shots that ended up costing me a shot, made a bogey on a par 5 after I hit an amazing driver off the fairway. But anyway, to make a long story short, I really feel quite good about the way I performed, and you have to execute the shots and if you don't get the result, then you have to be able to accept it."

Lehman won't rule himself out as a major contender. If he can get a few of those breaks to go his way - and maybe some help from the law of averages.

"There are some of these U.S. Opens - Merion, for example, next year, is not an overly long golf course," he said. "I know they've changed it some, but there are still some venues that I feel guys like myself can compete at. And with a great driving week and a good putting week, I still feel like I can be competitive. So the hope is not gone."

Royal Lytham has undergone some changes, too. Tom Watson, the five-time British Open champion, renewed acquaintances with Royal Lytham earlier this year.

"Tom told me they added some length," Lehman said. "You say, 'Hey, the second and third holes are both 480.' Well, 480 on a links course could be a 1 iron and a wedge, depending on the wind or it could be a driver and 3 wood.

"So I don't get too concerned about length on links courses simply because the ball tends to want to roll. Now, with all the rain they've had there, they're probably not going to be as fast and furious as it has been in the past."