For Tom Lehman, Hazeltine is like coming home

By
Mark Craig
Star Tribune

Series: Ryder Cup

Published: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 | 2:16 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tom Lehman said he's had a soft spot for Hazeltine National Golf Club for most of his adult life.

"There was a time in my life when they really helped me out," the native Minnesotan said Tuesday after being named a vice captain for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will play at Hazeltine in the fall of 2016.

Lehman wasn't always a British Open champion, a three-time Ryder Cup player, a Ryder Cup captain or the 42nd-ranked player in PGA Tour career earnings ($21.5 million).

"I finished up at the University of Minnesota and got my tour card right away in 1983," Lehman said. "Then I lost my card. My wife and I moved back to Minnesota for a while and there was a time when I had no PGA status whatsoever.

"I wasn't a PGA of America member. I wasn't a PGA Tour player. I had no professional status other than being a mini-tour guy. And Hazeltine gave me carte blanche to practice and play. So there's always a part of me that's indebted to Hazeltine."

Lehman will be 57 when the Ryder Cup makes its Minnesota debut. It could be the final significant piece to a career that reached heights that he never would have guessed.

"I've been blessed," said Lehman, the only man to win player of the year awards at golf's three levels. He was the top player on the Ben Hogan Tour in 1991, the PGA Tour in 1996 and the Champions Tour in 2011 and 2012.

Not bad for the kid who played barefoot at Alexandria Country Club after moving from Austin in the late 1960s.

"Somebody told me along the way that if you played barefoot you would develop better balance in your swing," Lehman said. "So I played barefoot every chance I got. In fact, the first time I broke 70, I was barefoot. I was 13."

Hazeltine has played host to four men's majors -- the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Opens and the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships. Lehman played in both PGA Championships, tying for 29th in 2002 and finishing 60th at age 50 in 2009.

"It's a tough golf course," Lehman said. "It's a big course. It's a great driving course. It pays to hit it long and it pays to hit it straight. It's a real man's golf course, so I think it's a great venue.

"There's also a combination of holes that are great match-play holes and tricky holes. That 16th hole is great hole. Seventeen is a great little hole. So there's a nice combination of length and bigness and then intimacy, small and tricky. It's a great match play event."

This article was written by Mark Craig from Star Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.