Golf: The Open: Lehman's year of living differently

Andy Farrell finds the defending champion reluctant to give up his spoils; The claret jug has transformed the existence of a quiet family man from Minnesota since the leaving of Lytham
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The Independent Online
Tom Lehman may have been as disappointed as Colin Montgomerie was by Ernie Els's victory at the US Open, and immediately afterwards he uncharacteristically said he was ready "to punch someone", but a quick look at the mantelpiece when he got home put his loss in perspective.

As the reigning Open champion, he has provided board and lodgings for the old silver claret jug for the last year. "As soon as I got home and saw the trophy sitting there," Lehman said, "I started thinking about the Open. Each time I get home after a trip it has a different effect. When you are not playing great, the British Open seems like a long time ago. But when you are playing well, it seems like it was just yesterday and very attainable. So depending on how you are playing, the trophy makes you think: 'How did I do that?' or 'I can't wait to get back and win it again'." Right now, Lehman is thinking the latter.

Lehman's victory at Royal Lytham a year ago gave the American, at 38 a late bloomer, the one thing Montgomerie still seeks: status as a major champion. But it is with great reluctance that Lehman has brought the claret jug back to this year's Open at Royal Troon. It has become part of the family, with all that entails. "It has taken some lumps," he admitted.

Six months ago, Lehman got home to find the trophy down by the couch. "I thought something was up. I took a closer look and the thing was bent at 25-degrees." The three Lehman children, ranging from two to seven were the miscreants, but usually the priceless possession is out of reach.

"A friend of my wife who is a decorator came round and thought it looked good down from the mantelpiece. I said to my wife: 'Why did you put it there?' and she said: 'What's the big deal?' This is the British Open trophy, it's 125 years old. What's the big deal?" Lehman shuddered at the memory.

Then, only last week, the jug did an unscheduled walkabout. Lehman's brother, Jim, who is also his manager, ran a charity golf tournament and had given the trophy to his assistant, Tim Herron's sister Melissa, for safe keeping overnight. "They ended up going out on the town, bar-hopping with the trophy and someone saw it and called the police saying someone had stolen the British Open trophy. So the police came down and grabbed Melissa and threw her in jail. She kept saying: 'No, no, Tom gave it to me.' They ended up phoning me at two in the morning to check." At least, the cops had the chance to have their photo taken with the trophy and drink a beer out of it.

Phone calls have become an ever increasing part of his life as one of the game's stars. Even though he says it has been a gradual transition, rather than an overnight thing, being as nice and considerate as this Minnesotan is means worrying about the 150 phone messages he receives a week while he is away at a tournament.

"Half of them will be things I can blow off, but half of them will be people I need to call back and I've got six days to call 75 people and each one takes 20 minutes, you just don't have time for that. That's where it gets difficult. People think: 'He didn't call me back, he's really changed'. The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day and you can't do everything.

"I've got so much going on with people meaning well but not leaving me alone, that the people closest to me end up feeling: `Tom has no time for me'. That's been tough. I've really had to make sure that my in-laws or my own parents don't feel I have no time for them. My wife gives a State of the Marriage address every six months and lets me know exactly where I'm standing."

After years of scrambling around in the backwaters of the game, Lehman has taken naturally to fishing the more fertile waters. In the last six majors, he has not finished lower than 18th, including his Open win and second and third places in the US Open. "Concentration is the key to good golf and it seems to me, the older I get, the less able I am to concentrate like I want to week after week after week. But I have been able to concentrate on the big ones. It is all a matter of focus. I think I'm a lot more driven than it appears. I'm grinding very hard, even if it doesn't look like I'm grinding hard."

As for Troon, Lehman took the chance to stop off there during a European trip last autumn, although conditions were very different to what he will find this week. Any lack of knowledge can be corrected when he plays 27 holes on each of Monday and Tuesday.

"I like the course and especially how difficult the back nine is. It is a long, into-the-wind, par-35. You really have to play golf on that back nine. Every hole is like driver, three-iron, or driver, one-iron. Par is going to be a good score. Since my first Open at St George's in '93, I have really loved links golf. It was like, wow, this is really cool." As would, presumably, back-to-back victories. But don't call, just send a card.

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