By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
KOHLER, Wis. – As the reigning Senior PGA Champion, Tom Lehman earned a spot in the field at Whistling Straits this week.
The 51-year-old was not in the field in 2004 and got his first look at the Pete Dye layout this week.
“It's quite a feat of construction,” said Lehman, who won his Senior PGA Championship in May at Colorado Golf Club outside Denver. “From what I heard was pretty much just flat farmland, like a parking lot across the street to this, I mean, it's quite a vision that they had. I mean, all of Kohler seems to be an amazing vision, to me.
"But this golf course is otherworldly almost. It's very challenging. I can't imagine the average guy enjoys playing here, it's so difficult. But it's difficult and it's great. So it's that combination of difficulty and it's fair if you hit it straight, but you better not hit it crooked.”
Lehman might be spending the bulk of his time on the Champions Tour these days, but he’s still as gritty as ever, evidenced by three top-20 finishes this season on the PGA Tour in six starts, highlighted by his tie for 14th at the Open Championship.
“I’m still competitive,” Lehman said. “I still work pretty hard on my game. It's a tough call sometimes. To me it's not always easy. It still isn't easy. There's still a lot of gray in there for me as to what exactly I should do and what direction I should go, because there's so many positive things about both the Champions Tour and the PGA Tour. And so I kind of feel like the way I'm going about it is fun. I'm playing seven or eight or nine PGA Tour events and 15 Champions Tour events, and then all the ones that I play are ones that I consider to be the best ones, and so my schedule is fantastic.”
DEFENDING CHAMP: South Korea’s Y.E. Yang sent shockwaves through the golfing world last year at Hazeltine when he stared down Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship to become the first Asian-born player to win a major championship.
Since then, Yang won the Volvo China Open on the European Tour, but has struggled significantly of late.
“Last year when I was playing I wanted to win and I was very confident about my ability to play,” Yang said. “Compared to that, this year I feel I may have lost my rhythm a little bit and my confidence may not be as high as it was last year. But I have won in the PGA, so I think in the next four days, I'll try to do my best.”SEE YOU NEXT YEAR?:
Wisconsin is back in the golf spotlight for the first time since losing its annual PGA Tour event last year, when the 42-year-old U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee folded. Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, both from Madison, talked for a time about trying to revive a regular stop, but organizing the event has proven hard.
"It's just a tough time for businesses in our area to stick in a lot of money," Stricker said. "The date that we had opposite the British Open, the fee for a business to put up money for that week is a lot less than, say, a better date that's not opposite a major. That fee is in the $7 to $9 million range, and that's a tough pill to swallow for a lot of companies."
Attendance at Milwaukee's tournament sagged when it was placed opposite the Open Championship in the final three years of the event. The top players went overseas instead of returning to the tournament where Tiger Woods made his pro debut in 1996.
Wisconsin golf officials instead point to big events like the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills next year, the 2012 U.S. Women's Open at nearby Blackwolf Run, the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills and the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
"I'm not sure our area can handle two of these big sporting events in a year. And it's sad, but I'm happy that we're able to get these majors," Stricker said. "It looks like it's very well attended so far, and I think that people will gravitate toward these every-other-year events a little bit more than (a tournament) opposite the British Open."
Stricker said that maybe a Champions Tour event would come to the area, but for now, fans in Wisconsin will have to be patient.
"We're still hopeful," he said. "We're still working on it."WESTWOOD OUTLOOK:
Lee Westwood is home in England resting an injured calf that is expected to keep him out until just before the Ryder Cup.
He is the No. 3 player in the world. He has been a runner-up in two majors this year. And his captain, Colin Montgomerie, is not worried.
"Having spoken to Lee, he will be hitting balls in four weeks, which is great news for everybody in Europe," Montgomerie said. "He's our top-ranked player and our Ryder Cup team will be greatly weakened if he didn't make it. So I'm delighted that he is going to hit balls within four weeks, and that gives him still another couple of weeks to prepare."
Montgomerie said Westwood's goal is to play the Vivendi Cup a week before the matches.
"If he doesn't, I'm sure three practice rounds around Celtic Manor will be good enough for Lee," Montgomerie said.ROCKSTAR YANG:
Y.E. Yang, last year's PGA Championship winner, was surprised when he was assigned six bodyguards upon returning home.
He understood a little better when he saw their clothes in tatters. The South Korean's safety detail failed to keep pace on Jeju-do Island.
"I was kind of trying to figure out what was going on," Yang said through an interpreter. "It turns out all their jackets and suits were all ripped up because there were so many fans that wanted to get my autograph."
Yang said none of his bodyguards were hurt.
"It was kind of funny to see those big bodyguards and their clothes getting ripped up like that," he said.ACTING HIS AGE:
Rory McIlroy might be a little jealous of Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa.
No, not because of Fowler's Justin Bieber-like shag or Ishikawa's flowing curls -- though they are perhaps the only players who can rival the mop-topped McIlroy. When pairings for the first two rounds of the PGA Championship came out, Fowler and Ishikawa were in the same group.
McIlroy, Fowler and Ishikawa are leaders in golf's youth movement along with Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan, and they've become good friends off the course, too.
"Whenever you get paired with one of the guys in the tournament, you're looking forward to it because you can talk about stuff that we like to talk about," said McIlroy, who is 21 like Fowler. "Rather than trying to talk to a 40-year-old."
One of McIlroy's playing partners Thursday and Friday? The 43-year-old Steve Stricker.DIVOTS:
The 73 international players this week are the most for a PGA Championship. They represent 22 countries. ... Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie said they wouldn't put themselves on their Ryder Cup teams even if they won the PGA Championship this week. ... Heavy rains fell twice in the morning, causing giant puddles in many of the nearly 1,000 bunkers at the course. Large bunkers along the first fairway still had visible water late in the afternoon, including some several inches deep, and the course was still soggy. The National Weather Service said a little over an inch of rain fell in Sheboygan. ... It's the third PGA Championship in Wisconsin after Gene Sarazen won in 1933 in Milwaukee and Vijay Singh did it at Whistling Straits in 2004.The Associated Press contributed to this report.