Lehman uses thinking time

US Ryder Cup captain misses cut in Illinois and turns attention to team-building
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As the field set out here for the third round of the US PGA Championship yesterday, Tom Lehman was preparing for two days of competition more intense than anything he has experienced before in his professional career. Good job he missed the cut, then. For if the American Ryder Cup captain was having to play as well as ponder in this definitive 48 hours then his onerous task may really have become too much. At about 7pm local time today the 47-year-old will have to flip his cellphone and break the good news to his two wild cards and the bad news to the discards. Hope he has plenty of battery available.

"Yep, there are so many with really high expectations that they will get the nice call that there's sure going to be some awkward silences," he sighed yesterday morning, before going back to his screen, with the leaderboard on one window and calculator on the other.

Lehman expected the picture to become a little clearer last night, but appreciated that today it might all go muggy again; a 63 here, a 74 there and his automatic picks could change in a flash. He was thankful that each prospective candidate now knew what he had to do to make the top 10 in this final qualifying event, but also mindful that this was only so because three of the unheralded quartet who fill the last placings - Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor and Brett Wetterich - woefully failed to rise to the occasion and make the cut.

Does he really want this trio performing such a synchronised flop into the Liffey that cuts through the K Club in a month's time? Hell no, but if it does not go to plan today he should get ready to warn the frogmen.

There is always a dream scenario, of course, and here this would be for Davis Love and Stewart Cink to finish high enough (top eight) to dislodge two of the unknowns and leave Lehman to strengthen his 12 still further with two other captain's picks. Fred Couples and Scott Verplank may believe their chances to be fatally dented by their own absences from this weekend proving ground, while Tim Herron and Lucas Glover were just bound to be thinking of theirs as re-energised.

Whatever, almost half of the halfway survivors still had a conceivable shot at making the US team should they come through and win, and that is what was making Lehman's wait all the more stressful. Thank goodness for the certainties in golf, therefore, and praise the Lord for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

If only. For Lehman even has his problems with the two best players in the world, who last night loomed behind Medinah's second-round leaders - who thrillingly included England's Luke Donald and Sweden's Henrik Stenson - with Woods just one back and Mickelson another three away. Next Sunday, straight after the WGC event in Ohio, Lehman has persuaded the US PGA to charter a jet to transport his side to County Kildare for a two-day reconnaissance, but it is odds-on his two biggest guns will not be there.

"There will be 10 for sure coming," said Lehman. "Both Tiger and Phil are trying to make it work as well, but have commitments on the Tuesday and Wednesday. We are trying to organise it that they can both go over for a day."

In truth, Lehman is fully aware of the unlikelihood of that - getting a man to Mars seems an easier option than getting these two men to Dublin Airport - but is refusing to allow this depressing obstacle to block his by-now fabled "team-building".

"We'll be catching a few brown trout and drinking a few Guinnesses," he said, as if reading out from a Visit Ireland brochure. "The goal is to take in a lot of things then, as opposed to having to figure them out in match week. Not just the pairings and stuff, but getting to kind of know our way around."

Which is why, he insists, that Woods's presence is not being deemed as compulsory. "I don't have any worries about Tiger Woods and his ability to lead our team. The biggest worry is trying to stop that European freight train from running us over again."

With that it was almost possible to hear Ian Woosnam letting out a loud "toot, toot" from his Jersey armchair as his wagon went full steam ahead. Everything here had worked out as he might have wished for, not least Paul McGinley almost certainly keeping hold of the last automatic position in the European standings, despite his withdrawal from this major to attend the funeral of Darren Clarke's wife, Heather, who died last weekend.

With those placed 11th to 17th on the list all crashing out - Paul Broadhurst, Johan Edfors, John Bickerton, Kenneth Ferrie, Thomas Bjorn, Anthony Wall and Simon Khan - McGinley will have this week's Bridgestone Invitational in Akron and then the final counting tournament in Munich to cement his place.

Woosnam will be relieved when the Dubliner does so, just as he was to see so many of his boys in Chicago with a shot of becoming the first European to lift the Wanamaker Trophy in 76 years. Donald's showing was particularly welcome, considering the 28-year-old's alarming propensity of late to throw in a tournament-wrecking stinker in one of the opening two rounds. A sweet smell beckoned. Both in Illinois and Ireland.

Medinah Diary: Clarke in line for emotional return

It now seems almost certain that Darren Clarke will make an emotional tribute to his wife, Heather, who passed away last Sunday, by playing in next month's Ryder Cup.

All week here the rumour has gathered substance, to such an extent that yesterday Tom Lehman admitted: "I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Darren lining up at the K Club." Meanwhile, Chubby Chandler, his manager, was as revealing as little as he possibly could be in saying: "0nly Darren will be aware when it is right to return, but I have a feeling it will be sooner rather than later."

It is known that the European captain, Ian Woosnam, has promised Clarke a wild card, and to build up his match fitness - and, perhaps more importantly, to prove to himself he is up to it - Clarke may well appear at the Madrid Open the week before the biennial tear-up. At the same time in Wentworth, Tiger Woods will be competing in the World Match Play, and the Spanish capital would be the ideal venue for Clarke to come back away from the glare.

TOTALLY HONEST JOHN

If all sports stars were like John Daly then the publishing houses could shut down their press offices. At last month's Open, he played live at the Cavern Club to promote My Life In and Out of the Rough, while here he has been telling all how close the golfing authorities came to stopping him printing his life story. "Tim Finchem [the PGA Tour commissioner] told me: 'John, this book is unbecoming of a professional'. I said, 'Tim, my whole life has been unbecoming of a professional'."

CUT TO THE CHASE

As the only eligible player to have won two majors but not appeared in the Ryder Cup, Daly may be interested in the little bit of history Brett Wetterich will make today should nobody leapfrog him into the final automatic qualifying position. Wetterich would become the first player to appear at a Ryder Cup not having made a cut in a major. Who says the new American qualifying system is a total joke?

TOO MUCH IN A NAME

Wetterich is just one of the "Lehman unknowns" that the British hacks have been feverishly cribbing up on. A seemingly simple request to their American colleagues was what the "J J" in J J Henry stood for and whether the reason for the initials was similar to that of fellow pro J B Holmes, who wanted to disassociate himself from the porn legend John Holmes. Nobody appeared sure, so the man himself was asked. "I was named after my father, Ronald," replied J J, reminding of that Only Fools And Horses episode when Trigger says: "Guess what? Del's called his son Rodney after Dave."

James Corrigan

Comments