Never flashy, always steady Lehman snatches Senior PGA Championship

Pritchard/PGA of America
Tom Lehman on the 18th hole after the final round of play at the 71st Senior PGA Championship.
By
PGA of America
PGA.com

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Published: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | 1:27 p.m.

Tom Lehman sat behind the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy, gazing at it as if it he was a wide-eyed youngster peering through a window of a toy shop.

It was all real, and not a young boy's dream. It was a man savoring a moment of victory among his peers, one major moment that had eluded him often in the past.

Lehman won the 71st Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club with a par on the first playoff hole, where Fred Couples and David Frost double-bogeyed after errant tee shots.

"I know The PGA of America will give me a trophy," said Lehman, whose 72-hole total of 7-under-par 281 earned him $360,000 from a $2 million purse. "The last two tournaments that I won, the Legends of Golf and the Argentina Masters, I didn't get a trophy. The check is nice, but give me a trophy. Even my kid, he plays pee wee football, he gets a trophy. Give me a trophy."

The same Tom Lehman who won the 1996 British Open; had led the U.S. Open three straight years after 54 holes only to come up short; and was runner-up in the 1994 Masters, was a study in calm on Sunday in Colorado's rarefied air.

The Bourne Trophy has a new legacy etched to its 30-pound frame, thanks to Lehman's performance and host Colorado Golf Club's bold entry into the senior major "neighborhood" just over three years after it had opened its gates.

Though an untested venue, the Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore design served up a remarkably old recipe for drama -- a challenging 7,464 yard set-up on Sunday, tricky greens and more than enough swirling wind to become a new category for "Jeopardy."

"To me, a good barometer of a course is whether you can play it in the wind," said Lehman, addressing many of the club's members at the traditional Champion's toast.

"I loved the course the minute I laid my eyes on it. It seems like the mountain air has never confused me. I've always been able to pick the right club when I had to, it seemed, and enjoyed playing here."

Lehman, 51, the only player to turn in four sub-par rounds in the field, picked the right club to begin the sudden-death playoff at 18, the second in the past three Senior PGA Championships.

He hit a drive down the right side of the fairway. Couples followed with a drive that landed left in a shrub, forcing him to take a penalty drop.

Frost's tee shot nestled in a left-hand bunker, and he pulled his second shot left of the gallery into the pines. After clearing dozens of pine cones between him and the green, Frost's third shot careened across the green and down a slope.

Lehman hit a pitching wedge 132 yards to 12 feet and waited for Frost and Couples to join him at the green.

"That was a bizarre playoff," said Lehman. "I'm not sure I've ever experienced anything like that. I turned to my caddie [Andy Martinez] and I said, 'How many shots have they taken?"

Frost and Couples finished with 6s before Lehman's birdie putt came up a roll short. He smiled, tapped it in, pumped his right fist and later kissed the trophy.

"I think I had an advantage from the start because I had just finished," Lehman said. "The longer you have to wait I think the tougher it gets to play in a playoff." Frost had waited 45 minutes, Couples half an hour.

Lehman earned a berth in the playoff after recovering from bogeys on 2, 3 and 5, and playing the final 13 holes bogey-free at 3-under-par for a 1-under-par 71. He proved how much he enjoyed the 445-yard, par-4 18th when he got up and down for par to end regulation. His approach from deep rough landed some 20 yards from the green. He pitched to 4½ feet and calmly knocked home his par.

Couples, playing one group ahead of Lehman, had the golden opportunity to pocket the Championship in his debut. He made back-to-back eagles on the 15th and 16th holes but missed an eight-foot birdie attempt at 18 just off the right edge.

It was Lehman's first individual senior event triumph (he teamed with Bernhard Langer to win the 2009 Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf). Sunday's playoff was Lehman's second in an event in Colorado. In the final International at Castle Pines in 2006, Lehman lost on the first extra hole to Dean Wilson.

Couples, who closed with a 69, and Frost, who had a 67, each took home $176,000, which was of little consolation to Couples, who has energized the Champions Tour this season, winning half of the six events he entered before coming to Colorado.

After congratulating Lehman, Couples stormed toward the clubhouse, where he quickly grabbed a couple of irons out of his locker and bolted for the parking lot.

"It's pretty disappointing," was all Couples had to say as he hustled to a waiting car.

Frost stuck around for an interview.

"I didn't have enough guts to aim it way out right and bring it back like Tom did," Frost said. "But I won't let one hole bother me when I played so many good holes out there yesterday and today."

Frost was tied for 45th at 5-over par after 36 holes - a dozen shots behind Couples, who led at the halfway mark - before posting a course-record 65 in the third round and adding 67 on Sunday.

"It's very gratifying to know that you still have something in the bag," said Frost, whose last victory on Tour came in 1997. "I think that when you get to our age, the nerves start taking over, but I was surprised that I managed to finish strong."

Lehman began the day as the co-leader with Jay Don Blake, whose eagle on No. 7 gave him a two-shot lead that was short-lived.

Blake, who hasn't won in 396 starts, then proceeded to top his 4-iron tee shot 30 yards into the bushes.

"I just totally shanked one, shanked it right into a ditch," Blake said, who went on to a 76.

While it was not Blake's day, Colorado Golf Club became Lehman's revitalization.

"To win the Senior PGA Championship with the history of having The PGA of America," he said, "that always is more significant than most."