Why is it the worst things happen to the best people?
Tom Lehman, who is 3-0 in Ryder Cup singles matches and has never
even made a bogey in a singles match, wasn't chosen to play in
this year's Ryder Cup. And that wasn't within a par-5 of the
worst thing that happened to him this summer.
On July 23 Tom drove his five-months pregnant wife, Melissa, to
the hospital. Twenty-five hours later Samuel Edward Lehman was
delivered stillborn. Tom sat in a rocking chair and held Samuel
as though he were alive. He held the 10-inch-long baby in his big
hands for two hours, rocking and touching and weeping worse than
any infant in that maternity wing.
That day also happened to be the sixth birthday of the Lehmans'
son, Thomas, and that's what made it hurt even more. Lying there
in his dad's arms, Samuel looked identical to his big brother.
Tom had the funeral, had two weeks of crying, and then had to go
on. He put his golf clubs on his sagging shoulder and headed out
the door. With two tournaments to go, he had to protect his place
in the top 10 of the Ryder Cup point standings. Had to. Nobody
wanted to play this Ryder Cup, in Sutton Coldfield, England,
worse than Lehman did.
See, to Europeans, Lehman had become the symbol of rude American
behavior. They had singled him out as the head hooligan in the
celebration on the 17th green at the 1999 Ryder Cup, after Justin
Leonard holed his 45-foot putt to seal the U.S. win. The
Europeans howled that Jose Maria Olazabal could have canned his
20-footer to tie but had no chance amid the hug riot. "And Tom
Lehman calls himself a man of God," chided Sam Torrance of
Scotland, who happens to be the Euro captain this time around.
That ate at Lehman. Even Olazabal admitted later that the ruckus
didn't affect his putt. And what did Lehman's religion have to do
with anything? "That really was uncalled for," Lehman says. "I
was like, You guys can take that and stick it where the sun don't
shine. I'm telling you, I couldn't think of anything sweeter than
to go over there, let my clubs do my talking, put the hammer on
somebody, win the thing and celebrate on the 18th green, right in
front of their fans."
But as he set out to keep his spot on the team, he had Samuel and
Melissa on his mind and a big hole where his fire was supposed to
be. He missed both cuts, including the final one at the PGA
Championship, which dropped him from 10th to 11th and out of the
automatic spots. "I was emotionally spent," Lehman says. "I was
running completely on empty. I'm not going to apologize for
playing poorly. I couldn't dig down. I had nothing in me."
Then came U.S. captain Curtis Strange's phone call on Aug. 19,
just 45 minutes after the PGA had ended. Strange had two
wild-card selections to make. "Seems like you've been
struggling," Lehman says Strange told him. "I'm not picking you."
At first Lehman thought Strange was joking. Next he was shocked,
and then crushed. Still, Lehman didn't make a peep. "I'm pulling
for you guys," he told Strange, "and I'll be watching." Lehman
hung up and nearly threw the phone through the window.
"If he's going to judge me on my play over the last few weeks,
that's a little shortsighted," Lehman said two days later. "I
know I've been down, but by the time of the matches nobody was
going to have more incentive than me."
So to recap, Lehman won't be playing at The Belfry on Sept.
28-30, despite having more Ryder Cup points than Strange picks
Scott Verplank (who ranked 14th) and Paul Azinger (22nd). He
won't join a U.S. team whose members, without Lehman's 5-3-2
record, have a losing cumulative Cup mark of 36-38-15. He's not
going even though he played in the last three Ryder Cups, while
Azinger hasn't played in one in eight years or won a singles
match in 10, and Verplank has never been in a Ryder Cup. "Scott's
inclusion has surprised me," Torrance said. "It's an intimidating
atmosphere, and he'll find it an...experience."
At the 1995 Ryder Cup, Curtis Strange made three bogeys on the
last three holes when a par on any one of them would have kept
the Cup in the U.S. It was the worst brain-lock of his career.
more incentive than me."