Lehman is ready for his Ryder Cup team to get set

Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman (r) and Assistant Captain Corey Pavin (l) have led by example in recent weeks. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman (r) and Assistant Captain Corey Pavin (l) have led by example in recent weeks. (Photo: Getty Images)

After two long years, the U.S. Ryder Cup team will be finalized at the PGA Championship. But with so many spots still up for grabs, Captain Tom Lehman is as eager to see who steps up and makes the most special team in golf.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

MEDINAH, Ill. -- While the 88th PGA Championship here at Medinah Country Club is front and center on the minds of everyone playing, there is a significant subplot looming for many -- a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

The PGA Championship is the final tournament over a two-year period in which Americans can accrue points. On Sunday night, everyone will know which 10 players have qualified for the team to play at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland, and on Monday morning, U.S. Captain Tom Lehman will reveal his two captain's picks, which will round out the 12-player squad.

It seems the only thing anyone can truly expect from this particular team is the fact that it will be young. As things stand right now, there are four players in the top 10 (Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich) who have never played in a Ryder Cup.

Some might argue that youth and inexperience don't bode well for the Americans, but the truth is they can't be any worse than what the United States has produced in recent years.

The Europeans have defeated the Americans in four of the last five Ryder Cups and six of the last 10 -- none more glowing than the record trouncing the Yankees took at Oakland Hills in 2004, when the Europeans pounded out a mind-blowing 18.5-9.5 win.

On the eve of the PGA Championship and with the Ryder Cup heavy on his mind, Lehman did point out one fact -- as far out as it is, or perhaps optimistic foreshadowing -- that shouldn't be ignored.

"The last time the U.S. Team won the Ryder Cup was in 1999, the same year we played the PGA Championship at Medinah," he said. "I think about those things and I think we've got some good karma going."

Talk about karma. The three hottest players leading into the Ryder Cup not named Tiger Woods might just be the U.S. captain and his two assistants -- Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts.

Lehman was defeated by Dean Wilson in a playoff at The International last week. Two weeks prior to that, Pavin -- the 1995 U.S. Open champ -- put an end to his 10-year-old winless drought with a victory at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. And then there's Roberts, who has dominated all year long on the Champions Tour, has won four times this season, including the Senior British Open, and is No. 1 on the money list.

"First of all, I would say that if I'm half as good at picking my two captain's picks as I am in picking my assistants, we're going to be in good shape," Lehman said. "The reason that I appreciate Corey and Loren's game so much and what they have to bring is that their attitude is just like every great player who has ever played the game, which is they never give up on a shot, ever.

"That's the attitude you need to have in match play," Lehman continued. "Match play, it's personal. It's me against you. It's personal. It's all about the heart and passion and you may not win them all, you know, but you can go down kicking and fighting if you do go down. That's what they help bring to this team."

Pavin agreed with Lehman's assessment and knows exactly what his role will be in Ireland.

"I think Tom picked both Loren and I for a reason and we do have experience," said Pavin, a member of three Ryder Cup teams. "We have played Ryder Cups. More importantly, we're very good friends. What I'll bring there is some very straight-shooting conversation and help the guys any way I can -- any way that Tom wants me to help them, I will. Whatever Tom asks for me to do, I will do that. I think the experience that Loren and I have will be a pretty positive asset when we get over there.

"We understand what the Ryder Cup is all about and how the feelings are when you stand on that first tee on Friday morning," he added. "Hopefully, we'll be able to give some insight to the guys who haven't played and be able to help some of the veterans with whatever they need. They shouldn't need too much."

As for the captain's picks, Lehman was sure not to give anything away on Wednesday.

"I'm going to be completely honest and say I don't have the first clue right now who I'm going to pick," he stressed. "There are a number of guys who I think would fit. But I don't know -- I mean, I haven't even finalized on one of them yet."

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