U.S. Senior Open Notebook: Majors bring out best in ballstriker Lehman

By Rusty Miller
Published on

There’s just something about a major championship that brings out the best in Tom Lehman.

Lehman, who will tee it up Thursday in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open, has won the 1996 British Open in addition to the 2010 Senior PGA Championship.

He thinks he has a feel for what it takes to win in the game’s biggest events.

“I’m not as successful as I would have liked to have been, but I tend to play well,” he said Wednesday. “The major championships are as much about attitude as they are anything else. I will say that I feel like my attitude’s been very, very good over the years. I enjoy the challenge.”

It’s more than just his mental approach, however. He also believes that he has a style of play that fits in with the higher rough, faster greens, narrower fairways and risk-and-reward of the majors.

“The game itself plays into the strength of my game, which has always been tee to green, hitting the ball consistently in play and managing my game,” he said

The 52-year-old Lehman is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, which matches his total in just over two seasons among the seniors. He has finished tied for eighth and tied for 12th in his two U.S. Senior Open starts.

He continues to play on both tours, tying for 22nd in the British Open two weeks ago.

Always known for his ball-striking, he knows what the key is to winning again this week.

“My game is pretty sharp,” he said. “My putting has been a bit erratic. That is what has been the big issue with me—I need to hit the ball in the hole a little bit quicker.”

LINE OF THE DAY: John Cook was asked if he had a lot of familiarity with Inverness Club since he was born in Toledo: “No. We moved out of here before my first birthday. It would have played a little long.”

TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: Russ Cochran still hasn’t had time to savor his success.

After capturing the biggest win of his career last week at the Senior British Open, Cochran flew 8 1/2 hours to get back to the States. He partied with family and friends back in Paducah, Ky., then came to Toledo for the U.S. Senior Open.

“It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” he said Wednesday before stroking practice putts at Inverness Club.

Cochran made six birdies in the first 10 holes in Sunday’s final round, then held off Mark Calcavecchia down the stretch to win by two strokes. It was his third career Champions Tour victory in 50 starts. His only win on the PGA Tour came in 1991 at the BMW Championship.

Adding to Cochran’s thrill of winning last week was that his sons were there. Reed, taking a break from law school, caddied for his dad. Older son Ryan, who played at Florida, caddied for Mike Goodes at Walton Heath and they finished tied for seventh.

The win has given Cochran’s career a boost.

“It’s fantastic, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I could see myself doing it, but still I had to break through a lot of barriers because I hadn’t won anything of that nature before. So I was very proud and very happy with the win.”

CH-CH-CHANGES: The last time Inverness hosted a major championship of any kind was the 2003 U.S. Senior Open. The winner was Bruce Lietzke, who held off Tom Watson to capture the title.

Now Lietzke is just a part-time player, content instead to be a gentleman farmer on his 630-acre spread in Texas. Yet he said he felt good just pulling into the parking lot.

“It’s the reason you come to your old high school after 30 or 40 years -- you kind of want to see the old building,” he said with a grin. “Dorr Street doesn’t look any different than it did in 1979 the first time I played a major here, and that clubhouse hasn’t changed one bit that I can tell.”

The course, however, has undergone some remarkable renovations. It has been lengthened, the holes rerouted and the greens reworked in the years since Lietzke won here.

He said on the par-5 8th hole, he hit driver-5 iron in the final round eight years ago. During a practice round on Tuesday, he hit driver, laid up with a 3-iron and still had a 9-iron in.

CHECKING OUT: Among those dropping out of the U.S. Senior Open field this week are Allen Doyle, the winner of the tournament in both 2005 and 2006, and a guy who won his only major championship at Inverness Club.

Paul Azinger, who defeated Greg Norman in a two-hole playoff to win the 1993 PGA Championship, cited fatigue in backing out.

Others who withdrew include 2002 Senior Open winner Don Pooley, Fred Couples, Mike Reid, Scott Hoch, Tom Pernice, Jr., and David Peoples.

Filling in for them in the starting grid are Ronnie Black, Rob Wilkin, Bob Affelder, Mike Hulbert, Jack Weeks, Michael Zaremba, Steve Schaff and Don Reese.

In addition, Guy Livesay of La Habra, Calif., was added to the starting grid after Cochran, who had not qualified for the tournament, earned a spot by winning the Senior British Open on Sunday.

DIVOTS: Peter Jacobsen has been presented the Old Tom Morris Award for contributions to the game by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. … Damon Green, whose day job is carrying the golf bag of Zach Johnson on the PGA Tour, is in the field. … Dale Douglass, who won in his first appearance in a U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club in 1986, will set a record when he tees off in his 26th in a row. Arnold Palmer also played in 25 straight U.S Senior Opens. … Bernhard Langer will try to become the fourth player to successfully defend his U.S. Senior Open title. The others were Miller Barber (1984-85), Gary Player (1987-88) and Doyle (2005-06). … There were 2,525 entries accepted by the USGA for the tournament. Entries were received from 49 states (all except North Dakota), the District of Columbia, and 17 countries.