Turns out the kind of guy you need to stand up to Nick Faldo is
not somebody with seven Ferraris, five boats and two
helicopters. It's not a guy with a perfect swing or clothes or
chin. What you need is the kind of guy who looks like a rump
roast on the outside but is tougher than a Woolworth's steak on
the inside; somebody who has spent a lifetime trying to make a
check at the Duluth Open, a guy wearing $35 Dockers, a guy with
a bald spot and a Happy Gilmore kind of lurch at the ball and a
funny hitch in his neck that makes him look as if he's in a
What you need is a big-boned Midwestern boy like 37-year-old Tom
Lehman, who is never going to be the centerfold of Golf Digest
but was just stubborn enough to hold off the unkillable Faldo,
not to mention Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Mark McCumber, to win
his first major on Sunday at preposterously sunny Royal Lytham
and St. Annes near Blackpool, England.
"I may not swing the prettiest or look the prettiest, and I may
do some things kind of funny," said an emotional Lehman after he
was handed the silver claret jug that went to the winner of the
British Open, "but I have a lot of heart."
Lehman's 67-67-64-73 for a 13-under 271 made it a week as
American as MTV. This was the second straight year an American
has had the scones to come to Britain and win. (Last year John
Daly did it at St. Andrews.) It was also the first time an
American has won at Lytham since Bobby Jones in 1926 and a year
when Americans took first, second, two ties for fifth, a tie for
seventh, low amateur (Tiger Woods) and low grandfather.
Fifty-six-year-old Jack Nicklaus pushed the Olympics off the
front of the world's sports pages with his five-under-par 66 on
Friday, which put him only one measly shot out of the lead in a
quest for his 19th major. "Who knows?" he said without his old
bravado that night. "I might play great or I might go out the
next two days and shoot 150." (He shot 77-73 for 150.)
July 28, 1996
Still, for all the Yanks on the leader board, the week seemed to
belong to native son Faldo, basking in a newfound popularity in
Britain that somehow comes from divorcing your wife, moving to
Orlando and dating a coed. Unnoticed in the Faldofest, Lehman
had taken control of the tournament by late Saturday when his
brilliant 64 broke the course record. Not that this was a good
When the words on the news that night were read--"Lehman's got a
six-shot lead over Nick Faldo with one day left to play"--a
chill came over golf. It was like reading, Unaware, Susan
descended the unlit stairs to the basement. If you had been in a
theater you would have tucked your knees up to your chest and
tried to crawl inside your popcorn. Six shots? Over Faldo? One
round to go? Yikes.
Only two majors and three months ago Greg Norman held the same
six-shot lead over the same unshakable Faldo with one round to
go in the Masters and wound up as a smudge mark, giving up not
only the six but another five and suffering the biggest and most
gruesome collapse in major-championship golf history. But it's
not just Norman. Faldo has made a career of sucking in leaders
on Sundays like some giant Hoover attachment. He reeled in Paul
Azinger to win the '87 British, Scott Hoch to win the '89
Masters, Ray Floyd for the '90 Masters, John Cook for the '92
British, Curtis Strange at the '95 Ryder Cup, then Norman.
"Well, if anything is going to happen," Faldo said coyly on
Saturday night, "the last group is the place to be."
Lehman rolled out every cliche he could find in the press tent
that night, steeling himself. "I'm going to take it one hole at
a time," he said. Also, "I can't worry about the other guy." But
afterward, he thought hard about it. He had watched Norman that
dreadful April Sunday on television ("painful," he said), and he
knew what Faldo could do to the rest of his career. But he also
knew that he is about as far from Norman as a man can get.
Lehman never expected to be playing in a major, much less
leading one. This is a man who has a deep working knowledge of
the Dakotas tour, the Carolinas tour and all the worn-out fan
belts and hoses in between. This is a man who was once so smelly
and broke that he couldn't afford a motel to take a shower in,
so he pulled his old Volvo over behind a building, stripped to
his shorts and showered in a driving rainstorm instead.
Lehman is a Volvo kind of guy and, in fact, drove a Volvo until
this year when his wife (and former caddie), Melissa, surprised
him with a new Mercedes for his birthday. "He was embarrassed
about it," says Andy Martinez, his current caddie. "I almost
think he would rather have stayed with his Volvo." Norman spends
his leisure time wrestling eels. Lehman just tends his roses,
hundreds and hundreds of roses, at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.
"That's the only thing Tom spends his time and money on," says
his father, Jim, 63, who was along for the ride in England last
week. "Those roses."
And so maybe the biggest difference was that Norman seemed to
have so much to prove that Sunday in April while Lehman had so
little. When you were the Hogan tour Player of the Year at 32
years old and only six years removed from filling out a job
application that would've had you renting skis to University of
Minnesota students in the winter, and only one year from surgery
on your colon to cut out polyps that proved to be only
precancerous, you do not have a lot to prove to anybody. "I've
already shown I've got enough guts and courage," Lehman was
saying at dusk on Saturday night. "I mean, I want to win, but my
life is not going to crumble if I collapse." Then a pause. "Of
course, I guess I've got to be realistic about this. How many
chances like this come along?"
Lately, lots of them. He and his controlled crash-hook have been
part of the final acts of at least one major each year for the
last three--losing heartbreakingly to Jose Maria Olazabal at the
'94 Masters, grudgingly to Corey Pavin at the Shinnecock U.S.
Open last year and achingly on the final hole to Steve Jones at
the Oakland Hills U.S. Open only a month ago. He was reminded of
that last Friday night at Tiggy's, the restaurant of choice in
Lytham-St. Annes, when he found Lee Janzen, Scott Simpson and
Jones sitting at a table. "Is this table reserved only for
major-championship winners?" he asked.
"Yeah," one of them said. "But you can pick up the check."
"That was always my greatest fear," Lehman said on Sunday. "To
die and have it written on my tombstone: HERE LIES TOM LEHMAN.
HE COULDN'T WIN THE BIG ONE."
For a time, this looked like Lesson No. 4 in How to Lose
Gracefully. Lehman woke up Sunday morning and found that his
putter had gained 103 pounds overnight and had the feel of a
pickax. Nothing went in on the putting green before the round
and, from the start, nothing went in on the golf course. Double
Worse, amid the dust and dirt and pollen convention at Royal
Lytham, Lehman was also battling a crowd that was either
entirely Faldo kin or near to it, screaming maniacally for Faldo
wedges that came to rest within 10 feet of the pin and rooting
hard, like on number 3, for Lehman's ball to get in the bunker.
(It did.) "Kind of like playing the Dallas Cowboys at Texas
Stadium," Lehman said. At one point, on the 7th, somebody yelled
out, "Remember Augusta!" and another followed with, "Knock it
Lehman burned. "No disrespect to Greg," he said, "but history is
history and...they were calling me a choker. I didn't want to
have a repeat performance of Augusta here. I just wanted to bury
that putt [at 7], just to show 'em." (He didn't.) Still, against
all odds, Faldo kept letting Lehman out of the box. He missed a
six-footer on 5 for a birdie, a three-footer on 6 for a birdie,
then a six-footer on 7 for a birdie. "I lost confidence in my
putter after that," Faldo lamented.
Of course, by then, there were so many other things for Lehman
to worry about. Up ahead, Couples was slapping together a little
30 on the front nine, passing Faldo and cutting Lehman's lead
from six strokes down to two as Lehman played the 6th hole. Here
everybody was watching the featured pairing, and the winner
might not even be in it.
Then came Els, who is bound to win half a dozen majors one of
these days. He could have had four of them by now but has only
one (the '94 U.S. Open), and he has been no worse than 12th in
his last five. This time, Els leapfrogged Couples and Faldo and
for a while--after a birdie at 15--he had the eventual winning
score of 13 under before leaving it somewhere in a pot bunker on
the way back to the clubhouse.
As Els knocked his eagle approach a foot past the 15th hole,
Lehman walked to the 12th green, still birdieless, still without
once having had the honors. And that's when Lehman finally made
a putt, a 13-footer for birdie on the par-3 12th that let him
hold on to a two-shot lead and put some actual air in his lungs.
Couples came apart then, putting his 30 on the front together
with a 41 on the back for an even-par 71 and no effect. And when
Els drove into one of the approximately four million pot bunkers
at Lytham to bogey 16, it was all Lehman's to lose.
He nearly did.
He three-putted the 14th for a bogey and then on 15 knocked his
approach into a greenside bunker that you could not fit a
good-sized cat into. Lehman had to stand with one foot outside
the bunker and hit, but somehow he swept his ball out so sweetly
and softly that it stopped six feet from the hole, and he
drained it, maybe the biggest putt of his life. That allowed him
to bogey 17 and still play the 18th sweatlessly, driving into
the left rough, knocking it 35 feet from the pin with a pretty
eight-iron and needing only to two-putt from three feet to win
$310,000. "I lagged it," he said. It went in anyway, and he
pulled up a chair at the table of champions.
This will be the kind of win that is popular in the locker room,
the press room and the caddie room. It is hard not to like a guy
who starts his British Open acceptance speech in front of 30,000
fans surrounding the 18th green with a whopping, "Wow!"
Afterward, Lehman was cradling the winner's claret jug and
remembering a Nowhere Tour event in Wichita, Kans.: He drove
more than 800 miles, won the tournament and a check that barely
covered his month's expenses, and was handed a pewter cup that
broke in his trunk by the next fill-up. He looked at his newest
trinket and nearly cried. "They'll never take this thing away
First rule of the rose gardener: The thorns always come before